How you use social media could affect your happiness

  • The way people interact with one another has been affected by social media
  • People spend less time interacting face-to-face, risking self-isolation
  • Researchers warn that social media should be used with caution as it can affect our state of mind

Social media has radically changed the way we interact with one another – with not much research on the impact this has had on our happiness.

A previous study established that social media can be beneficial when useful connections are made, while also warning that it can be harmful if it leads to self-isolation and social comparison. A group of researchers, from the psychology department of UBC Okanagan in Canada, became curious about how and why the regular use of social media can affect our happiness.

Author of the study, Derrick Wirtz, expressed that even before physical distancing as a result of Covid-19 was implemented, social media had already impacted the way we interact with one another, with face-to-face contact being exceeded by online interactions. Wirtz and his team embarked on conducting a study examining how social media impacts subjective well-being.

What are affects?

Subjective well-being (SWB) is self-reported happiness and life satisfaction, which is measured by affective states (emotions and moods). Highly positive affects include enthusiasm, confidence, happiness, alertness, and other positive emotive states. Highly negative affects include anger, disgust, fear, guilt, etc.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – the major platforms

The study conducted by UBC researchers used the experience sampling method to examine how SWB is impacted through the use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This meant participants had to report how they felt after using these platforms using a diary technique. The study also involved asking participants about which functions of Facebook they used most – scrolling through newsfeeds, posting statuses and pictures, messaging and catching up on news.

Participants’ offline interactions (face-to-face contact or calls) with people were also included in the study in order to compare online and offline interaction.

Social comparison problematic

Over ten days of everyday social media use, researchers found that participants reported lower SWB, with an increase in negative affective states. This means that the more participants used the three social media platforms, the more negative emotions they experienced.

The most frequently used function on Facebook was checking the newsfeed, instead of directly interacting with other users (through messenger). The researchers found that when evaluating why using these platforms had adverse effects on subjective well-being, self-comparison was the main culprit.

Findings of the study show that “the more that participants reported comparing themselves to others while using social media, the less subjective well-being they subsequently experienced”. 

The results of the study indicate that how social media is used is important, because when participants spend a lot of time comparing themselves to other users (i.e. through viewing pictures), they end up being less happy about themselves overall.

Social media is not all bad 

However, researchers of the study claim that these findings do not mean that social media is completely bad. Wirtz suggested that negative effects can be reduced by changing the way in which we use social media, like creating direct contact with other users and also by creating a sense of social connectedness. 

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