Social Media - The Happiness Mirage


A few blog posts ago I wrote about the combination of loneliness, social isolation and the ever-increasing adoption of technology into our lives and dare I say it, our very being. The idea that social media can be harmful to our mental and emotional well-being is not a new one.

However, little direct research has been done to directly measure the effect; surveys and correlative studies suggest that there are detrimental effects but it’s hard to quantify exactly.

That is until recently because a new experimental study out of Penn State University in the US, has directly linked more social media use to worse emotional states, and less use to participants having a better level of well-being all round.

One hundred and forty-three students from the university were monitored for three weeks after being assigned to either limit their social media use to about 10 minutes per app (Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram) per day or continue using it as they normally would. They were monitored for a baseline before the experimental period and assessed weekly on a variety of standard tests for depression, social support and so on. Social media use was monitored via the iOS battery use screen, which shows app use.

The study led by Melissa Hunt at Penn State’s psychology department resulted in a distinctly clear set of data. As their paper, published recently in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, puts it:

“The limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over three weeks compared to the control group. Both groups showed significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out over baseline, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.”

Our findings strongly suggest that limiting social media use to approximately 30 minutes per day may lead to significant improvement in well-being.” says Hunt.

I don’t know about you, but looking at this problem from the outside (I’m not a huge social media user) I can’t but help think that this constant driving force for thumbs up and likes and whatever other types of votes depending upon the platform suggests there’s an enormous amount of social comparison going on. When you look at other people’s lives, it’s easy to conclude that everyone else’s life is cooler or better than yours.

As the Character Socrates in Dan Millman’s famous book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior explains to the young Dan, that despite working in a gas station for a living, he, (Socrates) is a very wealthy man. Dan isn’t convinced and asks why he works at a gas station if he is wealthy? This leads to Socrates to explain what wealth actually is. One can want many things and work long and hard to perhaps be able to afford and acquire them, or one can lower their desires and easily have everything they want. Their expectations have been fulfilled and they are content.

I’m not a sociologist, but perhaps continually looking at what you don’t have or maybe will never get, on social media, means you’re destined for constant disappointment.