The complexity behind social media’s impact on happiness

The complexity behind social media's impact on happiness

Recent studies challenge the notion that social media use is directly linked to sadness and depression. While high social media use is associated with feelings of envy and depression, it may not be the cause of these negative emotions. Instead, the mindset of the individual using social media plays a significant role in determining its impact on wellbeing.

Social media encompasses various platforms that cater to a wide range of users, from individuals to businesses. It serves as a means to connect with people we may not otherwise see, with 39% of Americans claiming to be friends with individuals they only interact with online. For older individuals, social media helps foster feelings of connectedness and wellbeing, although contact with family members does not necessarily increase happiness. On the other hand, younger adults report increased happiness when they have more social media contact with family members. Teens find social media particularly useful for deepening connections and expanding their social networks.

Given the significant role social media plays in society, researchers have sought to determine whether it makes us happier or not. Studies have employed various approaches, such as surveys and analyzing the content people post, to gauge its impact. One survey study found that increased social media use was associated with decreased life satisfaction and happiness. Another study revealed that spending less time on social media correlated with increased work satisfaction, engagement, and positive mental health.

Comparing oneself to others on social media often leads to feelings of envy and depression. However, evidence suggests that depression may be the predictor rather than the outcome of both social comparison and envy. Therefore, one’s perception and attitude towards social media are crucial factors in determining whether it brings benefits or harms. Interviews with young people using social media indicate that positive mental health in this age group is influenced by connection with friends and the global community, engagement with social media content, and the value of social media as an outlet for expression.

Studies also explore the emotions expressed by frequent social media users. The “happiness paradox” arises from the mathematical properties of friendship networks on social media, where most people perceive their friends as happier than themselves. Twitter content from residents of US cities showed that those who tweeted more tended to express less happiness. Conversely, Instagram direct messages revealed that happiness was four times more prevalent than sadness.

It is important to note that factors associated with decreased mental health are not solely attributed to social media use. Digital media use as a whole can contribute to reduced wellbeing due to sleep disruption, reduced face-to-face social interaction or physical activity, social comparison, and cyberbullying. However, social media platforms are driven by recommendation algorithms that may lead users to consume increasingly extreme content, distorting their view of the world. Maintaining a diverse and balanced information diet online is crucial.

Interestingly, our emotional state is influenced not only by our interactions on social media but also by external factors such as rainfall. Rainfall affects the emotional content of social media posts for both the user experiencing rain and their extended network. Happy posts have the most significant influence, with each happy post encouraging approximately two additional happy updates from friends.

Therefore, achieving online happiness does not necessarily require deleting one’s social media accounts entirely. Instead, it is essential to be mindful of what we consume online. If social media starts to feel overwhelming, it may be time to change our approach and find a healthier balance.