Facebook Makes Us All Sad Because Everyone Is Happy But Us
Not long ago, after posting a work-related status update, I received a message from Stella, who wrote: "I'm always amazed at how happy and successful you are. You look great, and I'm sure you are making all of your dreams come true. Sometimes I wish I would have left (our town), maybe I wouldn't be stuck in such a crap situation." A crap situation? But she looked so happy! Thus, the Facebook conundrum.
The January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin includes a study by a PhD student at Stanford who investigated a two-fold phenomenon. First of all, we hand-pick our Facebook statuses and pictures to make us into the best versions of ourselves. (Duh.) Second, looking at the similarly idealized spread of our friends' lives can make us depressed, simply because we tend to think that everyone is more happy than us. The study's director, Alex Jordan, told Slate, "[The subjects] were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life." In the three-part study, participants first reported that they hid their negative emotions more than their positive ones, because they underestimated how distressed their peers were. Though acknowledging they kept their sad feelings at bay, the third study investigated the correlation between how happy a subject perceived her peers to be and how unhappy that made them. Misery, it appears, doesn't like company as much as once thought.
Facebook, and social networking in general, serves as a great pile of salt to be rubbed in our collective wounds. Slate points out that the inherent one-upmanship of the site promotes positivity and sharing of good news, not bad. It has a "Like" button, not a "Hate" button. It celebrates the sanctity of friendship. Heck, it even tracks the evolution of a relationship (but unceremoniously dumps it after a split). All in all, Facebook, and the way we edit our profile pages, is meant to display the joyfulness of life (whereas, if I may posit, MySpace, with its moody and edited backgrounds and loud music serving as atmosphere, made it much easier to illustrate doubt and sadness). This tendency, says Stanford psychologists, make us feel like the metaphorical girl who chose career over family and gets to see all of her friends' loving and perfect children/husbands/houses-without-cockroaches every time she logs on to The Book. Metaphorically, that is.
Thus, by making working at creating the best Facebook versions of ourselves, we are perpetuating, as Slate eloquently puts, a digital keeping-up-with-the-Joneses. The shiny, happy world of Facebook may be both its appeal and its major downfall: without it, we might forget how much "fun" everyone else is having compared to our miserable blogger existence.