Social media has its definite upsides — especially when you and your friends are scattered across different time zones and phone tag occurs far more often than phone dates. When we use it in moderation, social media can be a pleasant way see what childhood friends are up to and send best wishes to an old friend who just got married, made a big move, or landed an exciting job. But, if we're not careful, social media can seriously sabotage our happiness.
Everyone knows about FOMO, but that doesn't stop us from experiencing it. However, there are other, more subtle ways that social media can make us unhappy. Even if we're feeling super accomplished, we're always going to log on to Facebook or Instagram and see that one of our connections has just achieved something so amazing that all of a sudden our own sense of pride and happiness is diminished. Social media can also lead to bad habits that are ultimately damaging to our mental health.
I'm not saying you should deactivate your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. As is the case with many things, social media can be healthy in moderation. But, here are five ways social media can sabotage your happiness — so if any of these things sound painfully familiar, it's probably time to reassess your relationship with social media platforms.
1. It Can Create A False Sense Of Connection
According to Steven Strogatz, a network science expert and professor at Cornell University, one of the dangers of social media is that it can make it difficult to distinguish between meaningful relationships and casual acquaintances.
While it's great to reconnect and catch up with a long lost kindergarten friend, focusing on relationships that exist solely on social media can distract us from our close friends in the "real world" — you know, the ones we actually spend quality time with beyond "liking" their photos. Strogratz cautions that these scenarios can quickly cause our perceptions of close friends versus acquaintances to become skewed. As a result, he says, "[social media] users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don't really care about."
A personal observation I have made is that, for those of us who experience social anxiety, chatting with casual friends on Facebook can feel more comfortable than challenging ourselves to get out and socialize in person. Although we don't need to force ourselves to go to huge, overwhelming parties, we shouldn't hide behind our computer screens in place of enjoying quality time with a few close friends. Genuine, real life connections make us happier and healthier people.
2. It Results In Constant Comparisons
It's human nature to compare ourselves to others, and this habit certainly exists in areas of our lives beyond social media — but platforms like Facebook and Instagram can make it a pervasive and unnecessary source of unhappiness in our lives. "Social media is basically social comparison on steroids," says Ramani Durvasula, a professor at California State University.
Everyone puts forth a carefully constructed image of themselves and their lives. We post our vacation photos, our beautiful new apartments or homes, news of job promotions, and pictures with the amazing person we're dating. We tend to not share updates about the devastating breakup, the hopelessly messy apartment, or the job we desperately wanted but didn't get. It's often hard to remember that pretty much everyone else is carefully selecting the information they share. And, on a really rough day, it's hard to be logical about this when we're in the depths of our misery and we open Instagram only to see carefully filtered photos of friends and acquaintances living the dream.
3. ... But It Can Also Make Us Super Judgmental
I've heard a lot of discussion about how social media can make us feel badly about ourselves — and that's absolutely true. However, people also use social media to feel better about themselves by putting down or mocking others. In the moment, it can feel satisfying to judge people we haven't seen since high school for their political views, career choices, excessive selfie posting, or their abysmal spelling and grammar. This is just as unhealthy as comparing ourselves to the people we deem smarter, prettier, and more successful than us.
Being judgmental never leads to long-term happiness — and if we think someone's posts are truly that lame, we should just unfollow them and look for healthier ways to feel better about ourselves on a tough day.
4. It Can Prevent Us From Being Present
Have you ever been out with friends, taken a photo, and then spent time disengaged from your buds because you were busy finding the perfect Instagram filter? If the answer is yes, you are far from alone.
A recent study found that more than half of the 1,623 individuals surveyed reported that their desire to post the "perfect" photo prevented them from fully enjoying a life experience. The same study found that nearly three out of every four people admitted they'd been "rude" or "disconnected" from their friends because they were focused on their phones and posting to social media — and later felt guilty and regretful for ignoring their friends. Social media and the pressure to project a certain image is putting a damper on what should be some of our most enjoyable activities and experiences, and that's seriously depressing.
5. It's Bad For Productivity
Many of us have had the experience of putting off academic, professional, and household obligations in order to peruse social media sites and apps. Sometimes, if we're seriously dreading a task, we put it off for an embarrassingly long period of time. Although social media isn't the only distraction around, it is an extremely common one — especially if we're already at our computers for the purpose of working.
Forbes reports that 64 percent of employees visit non-work related websites each day. Unsurprisingly, Millennials are the workers who waste the most time on social media during the workday. Going to bed knowing that you didn't accomplish what you needed to can quickly cause feelings of stress, unhappiness, and shame. And, in the long-term, decreased productivity can lead to serious problems at school, home, and work.
The bottom line? Social media has many great uses and it can be an enjoyable guilty pleasure after a long stressful day. But, if it's consistently having a negative impact on your relationships, self-esteem, and productivity, then it's probably time to step back and disconnect sometimes. After all, there are plenty of ways to stay in touch with your close friends that won't compromise your mental health. No guilty pleasure activity is worth ongoing unhappiness — it actually kind of defeats the purpose.