Originally posted on 07/19/12
Not long ago, I read an article that summarized research done on people who spend a lot of time on Facebook. One of the findings was that there was a direct correlation between the amount of time people spent on Facebook and their overall satisfaction with life, especially as they felt their lives compared favorably or unfavorably with the lives of their friends. In short, the study’s findings strongly suggested that the more time you spend looking at other people’s lives, the less satisfied you will be with your own.
One of the theories about the correlation centered on the idea that we might feel our own lives to be inferior to our friends’ lives. And when you consider the kinds of status updates that most people post, it’s no surprise that we might feel like everyone else is out there doing exciting things while we are trudging through the mundane.
The flaw in reasoning is obvious: people post about things they find interesting, and often, we find these things interesting, too. So when we see one person is eating sushi and posts a picture of a beautiful California roll, and another is at a hip restaurant with friends, and another is being treated to a special meal by a romantic partner, how can we not look down at our lonely turkey sandwich–or at the less than glamorous family dinner of mac-and-cheese with hotdogs, complete with whining from the kids about how they hate this food–well, it’s easy to decide that we’re simply existing while everyone else is living.
But is this the truth? Is everyone else out there living it up, rock ‘n’ rolling all night and partying every day? Is the friend who posts dozens of memes with uplifting quotes really that optimistic and upbeat? Are the smiling family portraits reflective of idealistic, Leave It to Beaver homes? Or are people using Facebook to highlight, well, the highlights?
Common sense tells us it’s the latter. But that doesn’t help much when we’re tuning in to another lonely night of reality TV with our cats, or fighting the kids to brush their teeth before wrestling them into bed, or curling up with a big pile of work from the office that will demand we burn the midnight oil.
It’s human nature to put our best foot–er, face!–forward, and we would be wise to remember that what we see on Facebook is often exactly that: the best of people’s lives. When we compare our private feelings to our friends’ public personas, we’ll always feel inadequate.
I am always amazed when a friend who seems to have a picture-perfect life confides that their Facebook postings conveniently fail to mention serious financial troubles, marital strife, and crises of faith. It happens all the time.
And I’m not at all amazed when a friend who seems to have a picture-perfect life confides that they feel like they are missing out on life when they see the peace, fun, and adventure of their friends’ lives. This happens all the time, too.
What are the lessons here? There are many, but two rise to the surface. First, if you see lives you envy, let it spur you to try new things, take risks, improve your relationships or finances…let it inspire you to live your best life.
Second, remember that Facebook is a public forum, and that’s where people post their public faces. The lives we see are stripped of the monotonous vacuuming, the gross toilet cleaning, the embarrassing fights, and the lonely moments. What we see may be true, but it’s not the whole truth.
Is Facebook making you feel bad about your life? Then limit your exposure. Remind yourself that your friends want you to think they’re awesome, even when they don’t feel very awesome. Next time you’re knocking yourself and reading status updates with envy, remember that on Facebook everyone wants to save face. So cut yourself some slack, put your hands on the desk, and push away from the computer. Take a break, and while you’re at it, give yourself a break, too. You’re doing fine. In fact, some of your friends are cyber-stalking you with some envy of their own. Go ahead and post a picture of your TV dinner and your dog…I guarantee that you’ll make some of your friends jealous!