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mw editorial

how social media comparisons influence happiness

February 23, 2020

Social media is an intrinsically tough environment for those suffering from mental illness. Online spaces often have minimal or completely absent moderation, leading to targeted harassment. People often behave in ways that they wouldn’t in more traditional settings. These are the most widely recognized issues with using services like Twitter and Facebook.

However, it’s often the most positive social media content that influences negative perceptions in those who engage with it. While the blatantly aggressive and negative aspects of social media are often discussed, some of the most seemingly innocuous content has powerful effects on people, especially those suffering from self-esteem issues.

Only Seeing the Best of the Best

Social media platforms are built to encourage interesting content. People are discouraged from sharing the parts of themselves that don’t garner as many likes/thumbs ups/etc. as possible. So much of the positive content they share tends to be extraordinary.

Users post their perfect, finished omelette, not the one they burnt moments before. They post pictures of their one night out with out-of-town friends for the next few months, not the 364 nights where they watched Netflix for a few hours before getting to bed early to get to work on time.

And intuitively, we all know this. We know people don’t exist in a perfect state of happiness and perfection 24/7. But social media makes it harder to deny that other people aren’t living better than you are, on average. You see a feed of dozens, even hundreds of people, all sharing the very best slice of time from that day. Over and over.

The Thief of Joy

The thief of joy, ironically, is often the joy of others. This is beyond simple jealousy; it’s a perfectly understandable expression of self-loathing. The perception that others simply enjoy life far more than you do is reinforced in a material way: you see those beautiful pictures, you read those posts about wonderful moments.

Solving this issue is complex. Many of the people making those very posts that make you feel bad about yourself may feel the same way when they see the isolated bits of yourself that you share. If social media has become a toxic space for you, it may be time to disengage somewhat. Or, if possible, work on your relationship with social media, with help from a professional.

It’s hard to change perceptions, even if you logically recognize the realities of social media discussed here. That’s okay! Knowing is the first step; improving is the road ahead.


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