Your cousin is picking blueberries with her 3-year-old twins. Your college classmate got married at an 18th century inn. And your ex is chilling at the beach with old friends and wants you to know “it doesn’t get any better than this.”
In the age of social media, we know a lot about what our friends and family are up to. And in many ways, it’s great. Facebook has helped many people reconnect with long-lost friends and stay in the orbit of people we’ve just met. Through our networks, we learn about great articles and movies, discover cool restaurants and events, and get a hit of cute cat videos now and then.
But, as many others have observed, social media sites have a downside. Namely, they make a lot of people feel like crap.
It can be particularly hard on single people. You get home from your umpteenth mediocre date, only to be greeted by pictures of your high school rival’s honeymoon in Greece. You’re coping with the breakup of the person you thought you were going to marry, and then find yourself barraged with pictures of adorable babies splashing in wading pools and precocious grade-schoolers beaming with pride next to their science fair trophies.
And that funky feeling—let’s call it Facebook envy—makes you feel worse. What kind of person isn’t happy for a 7-year-old?
Well, a human kind.
A 2013 University of Michigan study found that the more people used Facebook, the more dissatisfied they were. And last year two German universities released research which showed that about a third of participants felt worse about their lives after using the site.
“This is something that keeps showing up in the research,” psychologist Craig Malkin told reporter Andrea Shea on NPR. “Some people out there wind up negatively comparing themselves to what’s portrayed on Facebook by their friends.”
Of course, the best remedy for the Facebook blues is to shut the laptop, but that can be hard to do, especially since the site is also where many of us get party invitations and job leads. But reducing your social media time to one brief check-in a day can help keep that “everyone is having a better time than me” feeling.
And when you do log in, don’t passively lurk. Share something that you think others might enjoy or just “like” someone else’s post. A 2010 Carnie Mellon study found that people who use Facebook actively felt less lonely than those who simply read other people’s feeds.
If feelings of envy or resentment come up, remember: you are not seeing your friends’ real lives. You are seeing the gauzy Instagram versions. You pal is sharing that romantic gondola ride in Venice, and not the bitter fight that happened 45 minutes later.
“When people go on to Facebook they’re often crafting a persona — they’re portraying themselves at their happiest. They’re often choosing events that feel best to them and they’re leaving out other things,” said Malkin.
And that’s okay. Most people who share their happy snapshots aren’t trying to make anyone feel bad—they’re just excited about their vacation or the baby’s first tooth and want to tell the world.
So give them—and yourself—a break. And remember: If everyone’s life was as great as they say it is, they wouldn’t be spending so much energy bragging about it online.
What are your thoughts about Facebook? Do the benefits outweigh the negatives?