A new survey reveals that posting just to accumulate “likes” can be emotionally taxing (and sometimes downright dangerous).

By Samantha Zabell
Updated March 13, 2015

Snapping the perfect Instagram of your healthy breakfast might actually prevent you from enjoying the meal. According to a new study by New York Times best-selling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, social media obsession is correlated with higher levels of unhappiness. The ugly truth? More than half of the 1,623 respondents say posting the perfect photo has prevented them from fully enjoying life experiences.

Many people remove themselves from fun situations in order to craft a status update or post a photo that will garner a few extra “likes” or comments on social media, according to the study. In some cases, this obsession can even be dangerous—14 percent of people say they’ve “risked their own safety” for social media, like posing for selfies on a busy street. Parents, especially, often let “likes” trump good parenting, and almost 80 percent say they’ve seen parents “undermine their own experience in a child’s life in order to get a super likable post.”

When Real Simple surveyed 1,000 female Instagram users in March, we found similar results. Roughly 70 percent of respondents admit to taking two or more snapshots before posting, and 65 percent say their feeds only focus on the good, Instagram-worthy aspects of their lives—not the real-life moments, like the dirty dishes or spilled coffee.

“’Likes’ are a low-effort way of producing a feeling of social well-being that takes more effort to get in the real world,” Grenny says in the study. The study authors have dubbed people who seek out that positive reinforcement “social media trophy hunters.” This behavior is especially problematic for relationships—three out of four people admit to being rude and disconnected because they are more focused on their phones. As a result, respondents say they later experience feelings of guilt, disappointment, embarrassment, or regret.

“If our attention is on an invisible audience rather than the present moment, we are disconnected,” Maxfield said in a statement. “Our devices are beginning to control our attention and motivations in ways we may not even realize.”

What’s the solution? First, Grenny and Maxfield recommend spending a day tech-free (there are health benefits of unplugging, too). Additionally, they encourage people to take just one photo instead of 10, and let that be “good enough.”

At Real Simple, we’re embracing social media—without all the filters—by using the hashtag #WomenIRL. Our Instagram account encourages women to snap photos of life’s messier and chaotic moments to create a feed that’s a more accurate and less jealousy-inducing stream of real moments.