You're probably familiar with the feelings of malaise and envy that can come bubbling to the surface after you've spent too much time on social media. But it turns out that not all types of social media posts turn us into green-eyed monsters; indeed, recent research has shed light on the kind of Facebook posts that make you happy. Like, genuinely happy, not just fleetingly so. A welcome digital development, indeed, considering that we're so often swamped with worrying stories about how social media might encourage unhealthy, obsessive behavior or lead to depression.
A recent study of 1,910 Facebook users by Carnegie Mellon University and Facebook revealed that the right kind of Facebook posts can greatly increase happiness and psychological wellbeing. (For what it's worth, this rush of happiness is billed as being on the same level as the happiness brought by getting married or having a baby; I realize, though, that not everyone is thrilled by the idea of either of those events, so do with that what you will.)
Published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, the study examined how participants recruited from Facebook ads across 91 different countries used the social network. The researchers first analyzed the users' spree of likes, comments, and other activity before asking them to take a monthly survey for three months about their mood and sense of satisfaction. And the researchers uncovered that what actually lifts our mood online is genuine interaction with someone we know personally and care about.
So how can you craft one of these super uplifting Facebook posts? Study author Moira Burke, a research scientist at Facebook with a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon University, said in a press release that it's not too hard. "We're not talking about anything that's particularly labor-intensive," she said. "This can be a comment that's just a sentence or two. The important thing is that someone such as a close friend takes the time to personalize it. The content may be uplifting, and the mere act of communication reminds recipients of the meaningful relationships in their lives."
The study also found that 60 is the magic number of nice Facebook posts from friends required to increase users' psychological well-being as much as major, positive life events do (like the aforementioned marriage and baby examples).
What's interesting about this study is that the research unpacked the different types of activity (comments, likes passive reading, etc.) and the impact receiving them has upon users based on who sent them. Many other studies into social media behavior — and there's been a lot of them, particularly in recent years — tend to blanket-analyze communication from both actual friends and online acquaintances. It's worth noting, though, that Facebook commissioned this particular study; as such, we might want to take the results with at least a small grain of salt.
However, Eureka Alert does note this study was based on social media use and well-being over time, as opposed to the one-time surveys which are common with most other social media habit studies — surveys which often require people to remember what their activity was like (and, unfortunately, memory is an imperfect thing). This therefore grounds the research in reliability, which means that it's better suited to determining weather there's a causal relationship between social media use and happiness.
All that makes sense, but for me, this study has made me think the most about one simple thing: Using social media for its original purpose. We've just been gently reminded that, yes, social media can enhance positive interactions with those close to us... so why don't just use it for that very reason, instead of, oh, scroll-comparing our ex's new partner late into night, or engaging in Twitter spats with trolls we'll never meet? Imagine if we only logged on to check our close friend's photos, or to say "hey" to our family far away. How much more rewarding would our lives be overall — both online and IRL?
It's certainly food for thought.
Images: Giphy (3)