Turning Off Social Media: Why Happiness Depends on It

The other day, an old Alanis Morissette song came on the radio and I was reminded of my childhood neighbor, Ashley. Ashley and I had spent hours listening to Alanis’ first album. I got to thinking how Ashley was the one girl on my street who treated me as a true friend; her being Jewish and my being Indian made us good friends because the things that set us apart from the other girls brought us together. I remember she had a brother named Jordan, and I first tried matzo ball soup and horseradish at their home for Rosh-Hashana one year. I remember playing computer games and board games with her. I remember picking honeysuckles from the side of the yard and gently pulling the stem out to capture the tiny drop of honey within. I remember her mother’s peach crisp, made from freshly picked peaches, which we ate on a sunny day in her backyard. I remember the clean scent of her home, like fresh laundry, which was so unlike the spiced and pungent smell of Indian cooking in my own house. I remember learning the words to all of the Spice Girls songs with her. I remember a time when friendship was simple and easy. What I don’t remember is where Ashley moved to, or what her last name is. I thought, if only I could remember that, I could look her up on Facebook.

Just today, a coworker and I went out for breakfast after a meeting and she told me she reconnected with a high school friend via FB. If not for this social media wonder, some relationships would be lost altogether. Yet others become strained and even destroyed because of the very things that make FB and other social media outlets work. It provides unrelenting access to everyone’s lives, thoughts, even whereabouts. For each of its fruitful uses, there seems to be two harmful ones.

I never wanted to join FB when it first came about while I was in college. I was busy studying for the MCAT and had no time for distractions. Afterwards, however, my then-roommate essentially forced my hand by creating a profile for me. Of course, it wasn’t long before I was sucked into the abyss that is Facebook, creating a profile, looking for meaningful quotations, posting pictures, etc. I was able to keep in touch with friends from high school that I had not seen in several years and maintain tabs on current friends. It did not matter how many degrees of separation were between us; meeting a new person meant a friend request. Who doesn’t feel good to see a numerical value applied to their friendships? It was never a goal or competition, just a small sensation of popularity for a girl who was always the nerdy one in school. (Bangs are ALWAYS an unfortunate choice for a curly-haired 7th grader with toothpick-skinny calves and a plaid Catholic school uniform. Not to mention my crooked teeth and good grades! Talk about a recipe for having gum in your hair — which happened, by the way).

The FB addiction was alive and well throughout the end of college and all of medical school. It was around the time of the “match” (where graduating 4th years match into a residency program) that I decided to take a long break from FB. I had grown weary of inane status updates, ignorant comments, and seeing what people were up to on a daily basis that I didn’t truly care about. I shut down the account for a year and a half until I learned a friend had a baby and I was probably the last to know because I wasn’t on FB. I realized (decided?) I was missing out on important events in people’s lives, as sad as it is that we rely on an intangible medium to relay life events anymore. Thus, I logged back on, and the zombie was reborn.

Lately, there have been multiple news articles (see below) regarding research looking into the role of FB and social media in our happiness. I have all of the creature comforts and enjoy the life I have, yet sometimes things on FB have a way of affecting my psyche to the point where it makes me feel sad, alone, and lacking in…something. What that something is, I can never pinpoint. What should be a method of staying in touch with friends and family is turning into a way for everyone to paint their lives through rose-colored glasses. Even if our own lives are fulfilling and rich, we see what others are doing and where they are going and who they are going with and we start to think, “Is my life less fun/meaningful/important/happy?” This is absurd when I type it out loud, but I feel consoled that the articles I’ve mentioned also point to this reality. Is it just our nature as human beings to have a tendency towards jealousy? Is it our ingrained in our DNA now to have that blue thumbs-up symbol constantly validate us?

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that the opposite is not true. Empathy is lacking when I have a FB friend who always posts sad/depressing posts about themselves and their situation in life. A constant cry for attentionĀ is unpleasant; this worries me, for if we lose empathy for others so quickly online, what will be the case in reality? If we do reach out, how far do we go? If we don’t, are we accountable if that person hurts themselves? And let’s not forget all the more obvious negative impacts of FB: cyber-bullying, hate speech, and the like. These have quite literally ruined lives. But even the most innocuous people can make others feel inadequate and unhappy. I hope that I have not made anyone feel lonely, unloved, or unhappy because of my posts and photos. But I am sure I must have, at least once, if I myself have felt this way too.

Narcissism is at epic proportions thanks to social media. Finding a good balance is very challenging, but sometimes veering in the completely opposite direction can help realign our goals and expectations of what we want to give and get from social media. It is in considering this that I am choosing, once again, to take an extended break. I have not shut down my profile this time, for it is more rewarding to knowingly choose everyday not to log on. I have not had the app on my smart devices in over a month, and now I can look at the “Facebook” tab in my bookmarks and not feel the urge to sign in. Re-examining my feelings apart from the social media world will hopefully allow me to truly live a richer, more meaningful life rather one gilded in gold for the news feed page.

Here are some articles about Facebook’s impact on happiness:

The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families (American Academy of Pediatrics)

Why Facebook Makes You Feel Miserable (TIME)

Facebook is bad for you: Get a life! (The Economist)

Facebook Depression (Psychology Today)

Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? (The Atlantic)

Social Media is a Narcissism Enabler (The New York Times)

There are also articles indicating no link between social media and depression. Here’s a review of one from the Journal of Adolescent Health.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. shawncolbornphotography says:

    This is a well written review of the use of social media.


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