How Does Comparing Your Relationship On Social Media Affect Your Happiness? It's Complicated, Study Says
Do you compare your relationship to the ones you see on social media? If so, you're not alone — but new research shows that the result of endless scrolling might not be as straightforward as you would think.
A new study published in the journal Personal Relationships looked at how many people compare their relationships to ones they see on Facebook and how they were affected by seeing happy — and not-so-happy — couples on their feeds. There was an initial study of 130 college students, which found that about a quarter of participants said that they would compare their relationship to ones they saw on Facebook, looking at photos and communication between the couple to judge a relationship. That's a lot of us doing some stalking and comparing.
With this in mind, the researchers from University of Manitoba carried out two more studies with a total of 411 participants. All of the participants were in exclusive relationships and they were presented with Facebook profiles of a couple — some of the participants were given a version of the couple looking happy on Facebook, while others were given a negative version with the realtionship did not seem happy or healthy.
And you might think you know what happens next — people see negative relationships and feel smug and better about their own relationship or they see what looks like a perfect couple and feel worse about their own relationship. But that wasn't the case. There was no a link between whether the relationship was negative or positive and how it made the participants feel about their own relationship. Instead, it was all in the eye of the beholder. In other words, having a positive view made all the difference in how someone would feel about their own relationship.
Those with a more positive mindset would see a happy couple and might respond with something like "Oh, that's nice — one day we'll be like them." They would see a negative relationship and think "Oh, I guess we're doing pretty well." Basically, they still felt positive about their relationship either way. Someone with a negative mindset could feel negative about their own relationship whether they saw a happy couple or an unhappy couple. It was all about the person's point of view.
"Although most people would be surprised by our findings, we were not," study author Marian M. Morry, a psychology professor at the University of Manitoba, tells Bustle. "There is a variety of research that indicates that how a person thinks about an event is more important than the event itself. For example, FIncham and his colleagues (1987) found that for the same event some individuals explain the event as relationship-enhancing and some individuals explain the event in a way that is distress-maintaining."
Remember This Next Time You're Scrolling
So if you have a tendency to compare, remember that your own attitude is the most important part of the process. "For people who spend a lot of time making comparisons on social media I would advise that first they realize that individuals tend to only display the positive aspects of their relationship online," Morry says. "All those positive pictures, comments, and so on are not an accurate depiction of how someone else’s relationship or life is going. In addition, I would suggest that they be aware of how they interpret the other person’s relationship. It doesn’t matter if the other person’s relationship is doing better or worse than your own relationship as long as you interpret this positively."
But, no matter what your mindset is, if social media is making you feel upset or negative then you should consider taking some steps to change that.
How To Stop Comparing Your Relationship To Ones You See On Facebook
It you do find that comparing your relationship to couples you see online gets you down, it might be time to take a step back. First, remind yourself that what you're seeing on social media isn't an accurate portrayal of reality. "The key is to not compare yourself to anyone else, especially based on social media, as the picture they are painting is not a complete and accurate one," psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells Bustle. But if you still can't stop looking — and feeling bad about it — a social media detox can help.
Delete your social media apps, for a while at least, and see if you feel better. If you can't go cold turkey, that's OK too. "Try to cut back on using your phone gradually," David Brudö, co-founder and CEO at mental wellbeing and personal development app Remente, tells Bustle. "Try simply not checking it unless you actually need to use it. Or, leave your phone at home when you go out for dinner or grocery shopping. This way it will help you to change your habits in small dosages."
Social media comparisons might not be as simple as seeing a great couple and feeling bad about it, but not matter what the cause, if it social media makes you feel negative, it's time to fix it. It's not worth feeling bad about the way someone presents their life online — so don't be afraid to take control back of your social media use.