When people are asked what they want from life, many say they just want to be happy. What might surprise them, however, is that their social media habits might be undermining their quest and at the same time, increasing their stress levels.
The Happiness Institute’s Study
Research undertaken by The Happiness Institute has provided an interesting insight into how Facebook can impact happiness levels. The study was undertaken in Denmark with 1095 participants and was designed to test if Facebook affects our subjective well-being. Half the group was randomly assigned the task ‘Do not use Facebook for one week’ (the control group) and the other half was asked to continue using Facebook as normal.
Before the study, 94% of the participants reported using Facebook as part of their normal daily routine and 78% said they used it for more than 30 minutes a day. The participants were asked to evaluate their life on different dimensions before the study started and again at the end of the week.
Some Surprising Results
The results between the two groups showed some very interesting differences after the week. The non-Facebook control group reported increased satisfaction with life, rating this as 8.12 compared to their rating of 7.56 (using a scale of 1 to 10) before they stopped using Facebook. The people who used Facebook throughout the study week rated satisfaction with life as 7.75 at the end of the same week. The control group rated their happiness levels at 88% after not using Facebook, which was some 7 percentage points higher than the Facebook users.
The biggest differences between the two groups, however, were in relation to their feelings about being worried and sad. The non-Facebook group rated feeling worried at 41% versus the 54% rating by the Facebook users. This is a huge 13% difference! The scores for feeling sad showed almost the same gap. The non-Facebook users reported a sadness score of 22% versus a 34% rating for sadness from their Facebook using colleagues.
In addition to these mood changes, non-Facebook users reported finding it easier to concentrate and being less stressed. The Institute summarised these results by stating that ‘People on Facebook are 55% more likely to feel stressed’ and ‘People taking a break from Facebook are 18% more likely to feel present in the moment’.
Impact on our Stress and Resilience
These are important findings as they suggest that just reducing our exposure to this type of social media can strengthen our capacity to pay attention and improve our moods. These are key elements in building Resilience and improving our ability to be more Mindful.
We know from Neuroscience that we are influenced by our need for Status and we are constantly assessing our place and comparing ourselves to others. When we feel that we might compare unfavourably to someone else, the threat response kicks in and cortisol (the stress hormone) is released. The participants who were not using Facebook for the week were not exposed to the posts of other people and this is likely to have contributed to their lower stress ratings.
Interestingly, all the participants were asked about their posting habits before the study and 61% of the 1095 participants said they preferred to post their good sides on Facebook and 69% preferred to post pictures of the great things they experience. As The Happiness Institute summed up ‘Social Media is a non-stop great news channel. A constant flow of edited lives which distorts our view of reality’.
Obviously there are positive benefits in using Facebook and social media, but this study is a good reminder of how our perception of reality can be affected. It is also a useful prompt to remind us to take a mindful moment and be more intentional about how we choose to engage with social media. We can make a choice to unplug more often and experience life in the present moment as it really is – a constant stream of ups and downs, positives and negatives, hiccups and hurricanes.
Being more realistic about life and recognising that we can’t be happy all the time helps with building resilience. Feeling we are not living up to the perfect Facebook life everyone else seems to have drains our capacity for greater resilience.
Let’s choose wisely what we give our attention to and let’s keep it real.