Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Quitting Facebook Could Make You Happier

Facebook can make you bitter about your own life

A recent study shows that people who are on Facebook believe that others have happier lives than is actually the case. This ends up influencing them to think wrongly about their own lives, because they don't seem to measure up to the lives others are having as represented on their Facebook accounts.

That last statement is the key one, according to a study conducted by Hui-Tzu Grace Chou, which focused on 425 undergraduate students at Utah Valley State University. One interesting finding in the study is that the more time you spend on Facebook, the more you will think that others have happier lives compared to your own. This can lead to dissatisfaction with your own life, based on an illusion of constant happiness in the lives of others. However, those who spent more time in face to face interactions with their friends were less likely to think that others have it better.

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What should we make of this?

First, don't judge the happiness of others by their Facebook page, status updates, pictures, and so on. This might be obvious, but I think we tend to forget it. Whether intentionally or not, people tend to put their best (if not entirely accurate) face forward in such settings. This isn't all bad, after all, as many want to share the good things happening in their lives. However, I would speculate that some are perhaps, unintentionally or not, offering a picture of themselves that is skewed, perhaps because of self-deception about their own lives or a need for the approval or respect of others.

Second, you might want to quit Facebook, as I recently did (for a variety of reasons). According to the study, even when we know that the Facebook picture of their lives others give is not accurate, those photos of happy people are still influential and tend to be what pops into our minds when we think of our Facebook friends. This can leave the impression that others are happier than we are, which can lead to bitterness or dissatisfaction concerning our own lives.

Third, figure out what it is that in fact makes for a happy and fulfilling life, and devote some serious time and energy to such things, rather than Facebook. In a future series of posts, I will discuss Facebook from the perspective of personal and social ethics. If that interests you, stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter, which I still enjoy and has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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