Are We Less Happy Today Because of Social Media?
According to an analysis by Jeane Twenge of San Diego State University, adults over the age of 30 are less happy today than they were fifteen years ago. The analysis also concluded we’re having less sex less frequently than before. But sex is not on the agenda today so kindly pretend I didn’t say that.
Back to happiness and well-being.
Jeane Twenge states;
“Although both teen and adult happiness dropped during the years of high unemployment amid the Great Recession (2008 – 2010), happiness didn’t rebound in the years after 2012 when the economy was doing progressively better. Instead, happiness continued to decline as the economy improved, making it unlikely that economic cycles were to blame for lower happiness after 2012.”
So, what are the underlying reasons for the majority of today’s population’s lack of happiness and well-being?
In my view, one of the root-causes of today’s ‘unhappy’ epidemic is social media. Now, before you gun me down for being cynical about what is surely a wonderfully effective way to communicate, enlighten, and network, kindly give me a few minutes to break this down.
Let’s begin with causes. What are the main causes of unhappiness?
In his book, The Conquest of Happiness, four of the eight main causes that Bertrand Russell identifies are – 1. Competition, 2. Boredom, 3. Envy, 4. Guilt and Shame.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with healthy competition. However, in the world of social media, competition / comparing with others has fast become a major epidemic!
The inevitable consequence of habitually comparing oneself to others is that no matter how often the comparisons are favourable one invariably comes across an individual, circumstance, or object that trumps whatever one is or has. And as I’m sure you know, our natural tendency is to focus on the negatives, regardless the number of positives.
We all do it – showcasing pictures of ourselves in the most beautiful and serene locations; images of perfect and oh-so-happy families; portraits conveying our eminent successes. Over the top? Pay a little more attention to those to-die-for pictures you see on Facebook and Instagram today and ask yourself the question, ‘is this really necessary?’.
The majority of us feel compelled to demonstrate our extraordinarily happy and successful lives, which invariably leads to an untold amount of falsehood and pretense, as we struggle with all mind and soul to keep up with those intolerable Joneses.
The sad and unfortunate truth is that it is often those very people who constantly post glamorous and happy pictures of their lives that probably lead the most unhappy existence.
Envy and jealousy are a natural by-product of unhealthy competition and an innate desire to habitually compare ourselves to others. And be warned – we often compare without even realising – the house we live in, the schools our children go to, the cars we drive, where we live, our profession – all generously on display on Instagram and Facebook.
Guilt and Shame
The world of social media has inevitably become one in which we love nothing better than to judge people for whatever mistakes they’ve made – past or present. I for one am guilty of this. Remember my attacking Liam Neeson’s character for an error of judgement he made over thirty years ago?! As my good friend Gboyega B. pointed out later that day, ‘how many of us can say there’s nothing we’ve done in the past that we are less than proud of today??’
Unfortunately, social media has become an avenue for attacking people for mistakes and misdemeanors. This is the example we are setting our children – judging and persecuting others with such venom.
Boredom is a no-brainer. Most of the time we spend on social media is as a result of idleness.
But that’s enough of me, for the time being anyway. What are other people’s views on social media?
I asked a cross section of highly intelligent and astute individuals the following question (and if I didn’t ask you then, well, you know…);
Do you think social media is good or bad for society?
“Let me play devil’s advocate and answer the question with a question: “is television good or bad for society?”
I think the issue isn’t whether social media is bad or not, I think the intrinsic nature of human beings (we’re both good and evil) will always mean that nothing will ever be completely good or completely bad for society.”
‘I’m on the fence. I like it because it helps me keep in touch with friends and family that are far away, but I absolutely hate what it’s doing to this generation of children, and I hate the dangers it brings’
“Without a doubt, social media has become one of the, if not the most, effective and efficient way for individuals, corporations, and government to communicate in the global society. This makes it not only good but the best thing to happen since the Telephone and computer were created.
In order to bring about development, connected individuals or organizations can harness the power of social media by conducting “digital conversations” while sharing and collecting thoughts, ideas, information, opinions, images and videos.
Societal development cannot happen in isolation, be-it the micro or macro level. So there is a need for a strong tool to connect people instantly so that the knowledge transfer is never-ending and instant. That tool is social media.’
“It’s good but needs to be regulated to ensure some sanity. Anything that has no control can be easily abused and I believe that’s the challenge currently with SM. There must be some regulations which must also not take away the benefits. The benefits are numerous – SM enhances dissemination of information globally. It has helped to improve knowledge drastically. It has enhanced businesses significantly.”
‘Social media is good for the social society, it gives us the ability to communicate in ways we never knew we could before, bringing people and families closer than ever before.’
“I think it’s bad in terms of setting high expectations for people – life with a filter is not anyone’s reality. It provokes feelings of low esteem and jealousy. And it’s all fake!!! I could be posting selfies looking happy and gorgeous and then wipe off all the make up and go back to my shitty sad and lonely life. I read something about a private jet company charging people to take pics on it without going anywhere!! I think that’s all really focused on Instagram. I hate seeing young girls posting provocative pictures.
However, there are good things too.
The connections you can make to people and communities which are created online plus keeping in touch with families and friends (I really used Facebook for this when I was in Lagos to keep UK people updated with kids etc). Also, social media platforms are amazing free tools for small businesses.”
“I think social media is good for society. My single reason is that through social media, human beings are more exposed to different happenings, cultures and ways of life. i. e it helps to educate people and exposes us to varying opportunities.”
“It was built targeting the brain stem, to influence human behaviour. Basically, to have you scrolling the feed almost against your will, at-times. Every user has encountered that slightly out of body experience of being tired of scrolling, knowing they ought to stop, or wanting to stop scrolling.. but somehow can’t stop.
They usually attribute this to their personal lack of will, but most people are genuinely unaware that the software has been crafted to hijack their central nervous system. That’s the first thing that’s bad – lack of knowledge about what they’re actually using – rather like the 1940’s/50’s, with cigarettes. Everyone is using it, it’s deemed “cool” to use.. but people are unaware of what they’re exposing their brains to; and by extension, their psychology.
– suicide rates shoot up
– one-upmanship shoots up in every sphere of human activity
Social pressure being so deeply baked into our programming.. as primates, it’s almost impossible to resist. Thus, it can be very easily weaponized. People are truly sheep at this point in history.
On the up side (and this is debatable), further down the line, when we finally get a grip on the technology, it will homogenise human thinking as a species, and make us way more effective as a unit.
Things like fact-checking, dissemination of useful information in the areas of health, security etc can now happen within a 24-hour cycle.. rather than weeks or years.
“I don’t think it’s good OR bad. It’s merely a tool. And as with most tools it depends on how or for what it is used i.e. for good or evil. We have seen it has the capacity for both.”
There is no doubt that social media is of great value and benefit to our generation. Be-it seamless communication, information, keeping up to date with events around the world, networking, business relationships, and keeping in touch with friends and family. Indeed, I regularly thank the heavens for technology, as it enables me to stay in regular touch with those closest to me, regardless of where they may be.
However, as with all good things, we humans have an uncanny ability to utilise even the very best of things to self-destruct.
Constantly comparing one’s life to those of others does very little for self-esteem or peace of mind. Unfortunately, this is what most are doing on Facebook ET AL.
Utilising social media to judge and persecute others does nothing for the health and well-being of the prosecutor (for that is what we are when we have a go at people for whatever misdemeanors we believe they’ve committed) or the victim.
Why is it so important to do a little introspection?
If we continue like this then what do we expect of our children???
Finally, if you often find yourself feeling morose, envious, irritable, frustrated or just generally lacking in peace and contentment, I humbly suggest you assess your phone-screen time. For there is a likely correlation. And if you find there is, then read a book, go walking, go to the gym, maybe do some actual face to face socialising, or watch Netflix; anything to reduce that flipping screen-time!!
Take a look at this article’s picture again.
That is what awaits our children if we don’t check ourselves!