How of Happiness

The scientific pursuit of happiness

My Quibble With Facebook

Why sharing our thoughts and feelings renders them less special.

I finally realized why I dislike using Facebook. It’s not for all the obvious reasons: Not for how people foolishly confuse esteem and respect with the number of their “friends,” tags, and "likes" or for how posters tend to “brand” themselves—there’s the political ranter, the curser, the poster of cute kitten videos, the humblebragger, etc. It's not even for the inanity of most people’s posts (honestly, unless you are my very close friend or babysitter, I don’t care about your camping trip this week-end or your pet peeves about Costco). The other day, my husband was changing the settings on his account and needed to send a test post to confirm it worked; he made a nonsense post ("Lying low") and received several "likes" and comments!

No, the reason I rarely take any pleasure in Facebook is that it ordinizes1 our friends, family members, acquaintances, and colleagues. It takes unique individuals who have intriguing hidden sides and qualities and turns them into ordinary, unremarkable, and sometimes even boring people.

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Consider this: One of my Facebook “friends” is a colleague who I really like. I only see him at conferences—at most once a year and often a lot less—and I have always found it a treat to get the chance to spend some time with him. He is interesting, funny, and a little bit enigmatic. Every time I meet him, I see a little bit of a different side to him, and unfailingly discover something new. But on Facebook, he is just an ordinary guy. It’s not that his posts are particularly annoying or mundane—sometimes they are cute or even touching or intellectually stimulating (e.g., something about his kids or an article that he found thought provoking). But, perhaps by revealing too much about himself, he’s become just an ordinary Joe. In a real-life conversation, his confession of being moved by his son’s latest exploits could be a singular or memorable moment, but the same confession on Facebook renders him no different from the other 5.6 billion parents in the world. When condensed into two-liners and posted for the whole world to see, our thoughts and feelings cease to be so special.

1(1) Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). Affective forecasting. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 345-411. (2) Wilson, T. D., Centerbar, D. B., Kermer, D. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2005). The pleasures of uncertainty: Prolonging positive moods in ways people do not anticipate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 5-21.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., is a social psychologist at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness.

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