Social Media and Happiness
Be happy for this moment, for this moment is your life. ~ Omar Khayyam
The United States is the unhappiest it’s ever been, does this surprise you? First let’s define what I mean by this, the statement comes from the fact that in annual global happiness surveys, the United States has ranked lower than ever before. This honestly doesn’t come as no surprise to me. At this point in time, the United States is more politically divided than it has been in decades. We see study after study that indicate that our children are more anxious and fearful than ever before. We see it at the college level now, recently on NPR a college health center director talked about seeing much higher levels of depression and anxiety amongst college students than he has before in his 20 year career.
This political divide, extra stress and anxiety paired with both our twenty-four hour news cycle and social media make living a happy life harder and harder in our society. There are some general tips on how to be happier, that we’ve discussed here before. It is after all the focus of this blog, if you want to find additional articles just search through the personal happiness category in the archives on the side of the page.
But tonight I want to focus on social media specifically. We are all tied up in so many ways online with our social media accounts. We have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, we get sucked into political discussions, get exposed to a constant stream of negative news and inflammatory stories, afterall the more extreme and controversial the posts, the more likes sites get. Then of course when we post, we now have to be concerned with likes and shares and comments that people post and the arguments that flare up between people who comment. Honestly, at times it can all be too much and we have to develop strategies to protect ourselves and particularly our happiness. And the answer is to not just unplug from the news, social media and the world. I’ll never be someone who believes putting your head in the sand is the answer. I’ve connected with too many old friends, and keep in touch with so many people who live far away from me, for me to ever say that social media is inherently bad.
Recently, I’ve found myself struggling a little bit, all of the negativity that gets blasted at us constantly was really bringing me down. What got to me beyond the political divisiveness, the way people treated each other and even the negative news was that people just generally seemed miserable. One thing that truly drives me nuts is the meme level thinking people generally apply on social media. Everything is in absolutes, whole genders, races, religions and political beliefs are hammered with no complexity, nuance or depth of thought. We’ve lost any semblance of empathy or compassion for anyone who isn’t just like, or at least thinks just like us. So what’s the answer?
Again, I don’t think the answer is leaving social media. So what I chose to do instead, was to be far more deliberate about my social media usage. First off, I identified where on the web I was encountering the most negativity. For me, I really only use Twitter and Instagram to post out and not to read. So Facebook was my biggest source. The next step was to identify which of my friends’ pages impacted my happiness the most. If someone only posted things that were significantly negative I unfriended them. This happily was only a couple of people.
There were some folks whose posts weren’t necessarily always negative but posted enough that I felt like I didn’t need to see their feeds anymore but still wanted to stay connected and I utilized the option of not following them but still remaining friends. Finally, there was a small group of friends where the decision was really difficult. You see they are people that I really enjoy knowing what is going on in their lives, but there was enough negativity in their friend’s comments or in their posts that I needed to unfollow them as well. I then went through my friends list to refollow folks I know who post positive stuff. You see when I travel, like I have been in the last year, I unfollow almost everyone in order to keep my feeds manageable.
I went through this whole exercise a couple of weeks ago. There have been a few results. First, my feed is a bit shorter. Second, there is far less negativity that I’m being exposed to every day. Third, this has led to a noticeable improvement in my mood. So all in all, I think this is something that can work to help you improve your happiness. So my friends, take control of your social media feeds and have a happy day. ~ Rev Kane