Are You Making Your Facebook Friends Unhappy?

daniel standing in new york subway

In a not unsurprising turn of events, research has found that reducing Facebook use helps with depression.

Researchers argue that Facebook users only ever post about the good events in their life. This is leading to their friends having unrealistic expectations for their own lives.

In real life, maybe we’d only find out about the good things that happen to our friends from time to time. But in our social media lives, we’re bombarded with every positive thing that ever happens to others.

This leads to the belief that our friends’ lives are better than they are. In turn we are lead to compare our own lives against these perfect snapshots that we see and feel ours just don’t match up. The expectations for our lives become unrealistic and unmanageable. This creates a spiralling effect where we lose self-worth and happiness. Envy and bitterness increases.

Now what I’m wondering is, what can we do about it? If we know that sharing the positive moments of our lives can cause unhappiness to others, do we have a moral obligation to stop doing so? If you knew your friend was lonely, you wouldn’t go bragging to him about how you’re so in love and have the most amazing girlfriend. So why is it acceptable to brag to our friends via social media and in doing so possibly hurt even more than one of them?

I guess we still don’t consider social media, or the internet, to have real consequences. If you brag to that friend in real life then you’ll see the hurt in his eyes, but when you brag on social media there will be nothing. Most reactions will be positive. Attention and likes. Positive reinforcement.

This creates a second problem. People start to believe they are more important than they are. We start to think the boring shit in our lives matters to others. That our opinion is in some way worth listening to. And we find ourselves in a state of one-upmanship. Trying our hardest to get the most likes and to show we all know better than others.

Those that are unhappy stay silent. Festering underneath. You wouldn’t know it because in a lovely irony, they too would only be posting positive things on Facebook.

daniel standing by cherry blossom tree

When we have a positive experience, instinct kicks in, we reach for our phone to take a photo. Yet when something bad happens we don’t have the same compulsion. When you’re riding a rollercoaster you can’t wait to share the joy. But when you’re crying at your grandma’s funeral the last thing on your mind is to take a selfie.

Maybe you’ll post a short status update. “I’m at my grandma’s funeral. 😦 RIP Grams!” But the effects of this wouldn’t make your depressed friend feel better. Your friends wouldn’t see your life in a negative way. Rather the out-poring of likes and sympathy would make you seem more popular than you are. That depressed friend would be sitting at home wishing they had as many true friends as you do.

Still, we don’t want to revel in our misery, we want it contained then forgotten about. Not kept on our timeline forever. Our failures in life are nothing to brag about. We believe we’d lose value with the people around us, by showing this weakness. So we keep them to ourselves. We’re all too proud.

daniel feeding an alpaca

As we become more self-centred through the positive reinforcement of social media, our pride is elevated. The better we show our lives to be, the harder it is to show weakness. Especially when our peers seem to have no weaknesses either. Negativity is censored on our friends blogs and social media profiles. It’s easy to assume that negativity doesn’t exist for them. But if we look at our own profiles, we can see the negativity that isn’t there. Our lives don’t match up in comparison.

Over the last few years, I’ve grown out of using Facebook. I’m pretty anti-social in real life and online it’s not much different. I rarely post because I don’t want to give people the wrong idea about my life.

Due to spending my last few years travelling, my Facebook life makes me look like some amazing adventurous person. All the pictures I’ve chosen for this post are from my Facebook, and to be honest, I don’t recognise the person I think these photos show.

Some people might think I’m an extrovert. I fear that people might even think I’m fun (I’m not!) And for some reason that bothers me. I don’t want people to think my life is amazing when it isn’t. I start to feel bad about myself as people like my social media profile more than they like the real me!

Now, to illustrate a point, I have one more photo to show you, of me in Thailand.

daniel lying in hammock on a beautiful beach

Doesn’t this look perfect?

Now imagine you were one of my friends, depressed with your life, it’s winter back home and you’re freezing your balls off. Would you feel good about seeing this, or bad? Would you perhaps build up a picture in your mind that I’ve been having the time of my life, lying by the beach all day, sipping pina coladas.

A friend from Vancouver posted a comment on this very photo:

Nice!!! Living the life. That is where I picture myself everyday I walk outside and I can see my breath.

Now this amuses me, because at that time I felt quite down and homesick. I missed Vancouver a lot, that’s where I wanted to be! All day I would be thinking about it. But even more amusing to me is that this photo is from one of the worst days I’ve had travelling.

Jamie and I decided to go on a snorkelling trip to some tropical island. On the way there I got seasick. While everybody else was snorkelling in the water, looking at beautiful fish, I was busy vomiting over the side of the boat. I thought getting in the water would make it better and just ended up spewing all over myself. This lead to me and Jamie having a massive argument.

This photo is from later on as I tried to recover. I wasn’t even paying attention to my surroundings, I was dreading the fact I would have to get back on the boat! Groaning, feeling sick.

But nobody wants to see a photo of me vomiting. So instead everybody sees an unrealistic portrayal of my travels.

If I took a photo every day for a year, about 320 photos would be me lying in my pyjamas, the other photos may be half interesting. When people see photos on Facebook they instead assume those other 300 days were just as awesome. I think most people have long periods of boredom in their lives. I am no different despite being in a foreign country.

daniel in a vancouver bookstore

When we started this blog I struggled with these thoughts. What to share, what not to share and what influence my thoughts and photos might have. I’ve said before I don’t want this blog to sugar coat anything. I want it to be real. The good and the bad. I hope I’ve succeeded with that.

I’m sure people may read this blog and feel negatively when comparing our lives to their own. I’ve been there. But is it my responsibility to self-censor to spare those people hurt?

Do we have a responsibility to be honest on social media? Should we share the bad moments of our lives as well as the good?

Maybe the solution is that we all step back from social media and try to reconnect with the real world and our own lives. Realise what we have, instead of what we don’t. Control our expectations and realise the grass isn’t always greener.

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2 thoughts on “Are You Making Your Facebook Friends Unhappy?”

  1. This is dead on. I am an expat living in Taiwan and I try to do the “everyday is not an amazing adventure” blog post but still so many people think I am living it up daily, in Thailand, of all places.

    1. Yeah, I’m pretty sure our year in Korea looked amazing on Facebook, but it was one of the most miserable on record! Hah. It’s hard to convince people otherwise when they see photos. Harder for them to imagine how lonely and isolating such things can be.

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