Facebook Getting You Down? You’re Not Alone

Social media site linked to lower satisfaction, well-being
By Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
August 22, 2013 Updated: August 22, 2013

Do you feel like a loser after browsing Facebook posts about your friends’ fantastic lives and outrageous escapades? If so, you’re not the only one. 

Last week, Facebook revealed that more Canadians log on to the social media site daily than any other country. But a new study says the more people use Facebook, the less likely they are to feel satisfied with their lives. 

Though past research has linked the site with jealousy, social tension, isolation, and depression, the new study is significant because it’s the first to track Facebook users for an extended period of time and closely monitor how their emotions were influenced by usage.

“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” said the study. “Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”

Published recently in the Public Library of Science, the study followed 82 young adults in their late teens and early twenties, closely tracking their Facebook usage and corresponding moods for two weeks. 

Those who used Facebook a lot were more likely to report a decline in satisfaction and well-being than those who visited the site infrequently. In contrast, the more participants had direct social contact with others on the phone or in person, the more positive they felt. 

German researchers who conducted a separate study released earlier this year may have a possible explanation as to why social media connections affect people differently than real-world relationships. 

The most common emotion associated with Facebook use is envy, they found, with one in three people feeling worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting the site. People in their mid-30s were most likely to envy family happiness, while women were more likely to envy physical attractiveness.

Because people tend to share more flattering photos, news, and achievements about themselves on Facebook, it can leave a distorted impression of happiness and success, triggering jealousy and loneliness in others, the study found. 

Real-world interactions, on the other hand, may offer a more holistic and balanced view of people—the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

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Feeling Inadequate, Jealous

“Sometimes I get jealous seeing other people’s lives [on Facebook],” says truck driver Brandi Christie, 33, who spends about four hours per week on the site. 

“If I’m having a bad day it’s worse—seeing people’s happy lives, going on trips, having babies, getting married… It’s keeping up with the Joneses, only the Joneses are now on social media instead of in your neighbourhood.”

Christie says that although she knows the majority of Facebook posts are a narrow and glossed-over representation of others’ lives, it still has the power to make her feel inadequate.

Christie logs onto Facebook first thing every morning and then on and off throughout the day. Lately she has been thinking of cutting back, but says it’s hard because the site helps to “fill a void.”

“It gives my life a little bit of drama, gives me topics to talk about with my friends,” she says. “Sometimes I would just love to quit Facebook, to give me some peace—but then it would make me look into my own life and it’s not as exciting as some of my peers.”

Janine, 29, a Vancouver-based nurse who asked that her last name not be published due to fear of ridicule, said she logs on to Facebook about seven times a day and is “addicted” to the site. 

“I have definitely thought about quitting my account but I really don’t think I could if it came down to it,” she says, adding that the site has had a negative effect on her self-image.

“I have felt depressed after accessing Facebook. It usually happens if I have nothing to do and the rest of the world looks like they are doing so much. It can definitely leave me feeling depressed or inadequate in some way.”

“I don’t like how I can feel jealous or insecure after viewing others’ pictures. I don’t like how I can feel angry after viewing people’s stupid status updates. I don’t like how even though I have these feelings, I continue to use Facebook and then just end up feeling pathetic.”

Janine believes the social media network has the potential to have a positive impact if people used it differently, but isn’t holding out hope.

“Human tendencies to show off, complain, and glamorize what they are not happy with has taken over what Facebook could have been,” she says.

According to Facebook, more than half the population—19 million Canadians—log onto the social media site at least once every month. In addition, 14 million check the site every single day. Facebook has over 1 billion users globally.

Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel