“Just got engaged, got a raise and won the lotto all in one day!” Why Facebook Status Updates Make Us Discontent

By Emily Murray

If you are on Facebook, I guarantee you have that one “friend” (most don’t actually know 1/5 of their “friends“) who is always posting Facebook status updates about how glamorous her life is or how he has such a hot girlfriend/wife/amazing job/car…well, you get the idea. As humans we naturally feel happy for these privileged friends, right?  According to a new Standford University study, Facebook actually tends to amplify your underlying feelings and your mood can be directly impacted by the status updates in your news feed. In some ways, Facebook has become the new way to broadcast your efforts to “keep up with the Jones’s.”

As described in a recent TIME article, the idea for the study (consisting of 5 experiments) was sparked by the “Facebook envy experience,” or that feeling of discontent in comparison to the updates you are reading frequently in your news feed.

Researchers began the first phase by asking college freshman to keep track and report as many of the positive and negative experiences as they could remember having in the previous 2 weeks. They were also asked to recall if they were alone or if they tried to hide these feelings if they were around peers. The results provide an understanding for why many of us  feel that other people are happier than we are – 29% of bad experiences occurred when the student was alone and only 15% of the good ones also took place in privacy. In addition, 40% of the time students made an effort to hide negative feelings altogether. So what does this have to do with Facebook? If good things happen around friends, peers and in social settings and a good chunk of people hide their bad experiences, it becomes easy to think everyone else is carefree when, in fact, you may appear the same way to them! We all go through dark times or experience bad feelings – we are just experts at only broadcasting the good stuff and Facebook gives us the opportunity to perfect this.

The remaining four experiments in the study continued on in the same way, asking other groups about their positive and negative experiences and emotions in slightly different scenarios. The outcome continued to prove that those who believed others were generally happier, felt lonely and more discontent with their own lives.

Think about the many boasting or overly cheery status updates you see on any given day. As much as you are happy for your friends (or at least try to be), the study suggests that most people are hiding the negative experiences they are having. We all have our ups and downs, those who deny experiencing the “downs” are typically putting up a front to keep up appearances, though they may be unintentionally causing others stress in the process.

For many people, Facebook can be a great way to keep in touch with friends, family and acquaintances but if you find that it is causing you undo stress, it may be time to distance yourself from social network for awhile.

What are your thoughts on this study? Have you ever experienced any of these feelings?