An American Editor

August 30, 2013

Worth Noting: Are You Less Satisfied?

Are you less satisfied with life than you think you should be? The answer as to why you are and I am not may well surprise you.

The culprit may be Facebook!

How much time do you spend on Facebook?

Past researchers found a link between Facebook use and jealousy, social tension, social isolation, and depression, but those studies were cross-sectional, making them unreliable for drawing broad conclusions. Those studies may have confused correlation with causation: It is equally possible that those spending more time on Facebook are generally more prone to negative emotions than those who spend less time as it is that the cause of the negative emotions was spending time on Facebook.

In an intriguing study published August 14, 2013, researchers from the psychology departments at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and University of Leuven (Belgium) found that the more time one spends on Facebook, the less satisfied one is with life (see Kross E, Veduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al.  Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLoS ONE 2013;8(8):e69841). From the Abstract:

Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people’s Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.

Another study was conducted by social science researchers from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany) and Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), which was presented at a social science conference in February-March 2013 (see “Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?”), and which found that Facebook aroused envy of others in users, leading to dissatisfaction. From the Abstract:

The wealth of social information presented on Facebook is astounding. While these affordances allow users to keep up-to-date, they also produce a basis for social comparison and envy on an unprecedented scale. Even though envy may endanger users’ life satisfaction and lead to platform avoidance, no study exists uncovering this dynamics. To close this gap, we build on responses of 584 Facebook users collected as part of two independent studies. In study 1, we explore the scale, scope, and nature of envy incidents triggered by Facebook. In study 2, the role of envy feelings is examined as a mediator between intensity of passive following on Facebook and users’ life satisfaction. Confirming full mediation, we demonstrate that passive following exacerbates envy feelings, which decrease life satisfaction. From a provider’s perspective, our findings signal that users frequently perceive Facebook as a stressful environment, which may, in the long-run, endanger platform sustainability.

According to both of these 2013 studies, Facebook has a negative effect on the emotional well-being of the young adults who were studied and surveyed. Unanswered, of course, is whether older folk who are frequent users of Facebook fare better than the young adults studied. (I wonder what the researchers’ results would be should they study LinkedIn users.)

Perhaps it is time to kickback, relax, enjoy a cup of tea, say goodbye to Facebook, and do more face-to-face social interacting. I can only conclude that my satisfaction with life is enhanced because I am not a Facebook user. Perhaps that accounts for my generally upbeat disposition :).



  1. Clearly, this is an incomplete study, although the implications likely have some grounds in reality, enough to spot a trend worth investigating. As an adult Facebook user, however, I would treat the study as I do Facebook itself: a subject of interest to not revolve my life around.

    I was averese to FB when it first came out, but have come to like or at least appreciate it. It allows me peeks into the lives and minds of friends and relatives I otherwise would be completely out of contact with, thus enrichening my life. It allows contact with new people I otherwise never would have “met,” whom I like and learn from. It provides all sorts of interesting tidbits of information and a lot of humor and wonderful photographs and links I otherwise would not find. It provides a conduit for things I would like to share with the wider world, be they personal or business. Best of all, you can control it — by not signing in, or by turning off, or disconnecting with people who no longer interest you or annoy you, or by not responding to posts. In short, it allows a positive connectivity and helps cultivate tolerance for otherness.

    The range and type of reactions it draws from people reminds me of TV. Television is a goldmine of wonderfulness as well as a seething pit of garbage that inspires loud, polar reactions from people. Yet one can control one’s access to TV just as one can to FB (and any other publicly available medium). Obviously, there are differences between them, but the idea is the same. Some people are hooked on TV as much as FB, or misuse it the same way, or misunderstand it the same way. Others consider it both a tool or a resource and don’t have any problem because of that perspective.

    As an introvert, my need for direct human interaction is small, so I don’t automatically consider more of it to be a satisfaction-enhancer in life. If I’m going to “kickback, relax, enjoy a cup of tea, say goodbye to Facebook,” then I’m going to do it with a novel before I seek any face-to-face! What FB offers to *me* in satisfaction is a chance for interaction without having to go out and get it, and being able to tune out as soon as I’ve had enough. IMO, the young (or older) adults who get into emotional difficulties with it have the same problems elsewhere in their lives, and FB is being pointed to as a culprit when it’s really just another piece of a larger puzzle.


    Comment by Carolyn — August 30, 2013 @ 6:01 am | Reply

  2. These studies are turning up correlation, not causation. Like Carolyn, I suspect Facebook is a convenient scapegoat. I was dissatisfied with my life when I was a young adult long before social media were available! As a middle-aged woman, I am much more comfortable in my skin and with my lot.

    I’m a fairly heavy user of Facebook; it keeps me in touch with far-flung family and friends. I hate talking on the phone, but I enjoy “talking” with my Facebook friends. I’ve also found a community of fellow bull terrier owners who share my passion (bordering on obsession) for the breed. My social media communities were great sources of comfort as I grieved for my father and a beloved dog. And it serves as a creative outlet that is easier to maintain than a traditional blog.

    I recently wrote an article on an Ohio University professor of sociology who studies social networks. His work supports the idea that you get from social media what you put into it. But that idea is less media-friendly than “Facebook will ruin your life!”


    Comment by Bandana Bob Publications — August 30, 2013 @ 6:54 am | Reply

  3. I’ve gotten a lot out of Facebook since joining a couple of years ago, keeping up with friends and family, reconnecting with old friends, and getting to know some of my editorial colleagues in a less formal atmosphere. At my age, many of my friends (and I) are more interested in posting photos of our children and grandchildren than engaging in the social competitiveness that may characterize younger people’s (I’m thinking HS and some college-age kids) FB experiences. At first, it was kind of a time sink, but I soon learned how to deal with the bombardment of posts and information by using lists and groups, just as I’ve learned how to work with computer technology in my work. One of my best FB weeks ever was when I received a friend invitation from a dear old friend from elementary school whom I had lost contact with but always wanted to reconnect with. That inspired me to do a FB search for an old college friend, whom I found and friended.

    I’ve also expanded my knowledge of all sorts of things, given that many of my FB friends post interesting links and information. Not that I agree with everything — which would make life pretty boring if I did — but I usually find it thought-provoking.


    Comment by Teresa Barensfeld — August 30, 2013 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  4. Studies can support or refute any concept or perception and people can choose to connect with others as often or as deeply and in as many ways as they wish throughout their lifetime. I have family and friends who use FB and those who don’t.

    My sis-in-law and I created FB accounts when it first hit the scene, thinking it would give us a route to co-review estate sale items she was gathering at the time. We quickly discovered that it wouldn’t support that venture and we both had to re-format our hard drives to get all the FB tentacles removed. I admit to feeling a bit of the sci-fi brain-sucking thing happening, but chalked it up to passing paranoia.

    I believe the supportive aspect of FB is positive in general, especially when circumstances limit people’s ability to communicate via alternative methods – like phone, email, snail mail, in person.

    Personally, I enjoy maintaining my relationships in person, by phone, by email, even by snail mail. All these communication venues seem to demand that I be more aware of my use of them. I am focused on connecting with a single person or a group of people. That awareness/focus seems to slow me down, so I tend to get more out of each contact.

    Professionally, I avoid FB because I have enough real and potential time-suckers in my life that I scramble to maintain: website, twitter, LinkedIn, association group discussions, and professional forums.

    If a friend wants to send me pictures of the newest grandchild, it means more to me to receive it via my smartphone or email. I know they are thinking of me when they use those venues. FB has a bit of the ‘cattle call’ element in it. But – that’s just my view.

    I doubt FB has done anything more to society than to offer one more instantaneous way to magnify tendencies we all experience at one time or another. The massive use just amplifies our awareness of them.


    Comment by Maria D'Marco — August 30, 2013 @ 10:32 am | Reply

  5. Grin – us older adults have also had the advantage of watching the old “it’s new, it’s different, the kids like it, there must be something WRONG with it” outlook sail by many times before. This, too, will.. get interesting!


    Comment by anansii — August 30, 2013 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  6. I don’t have a FB account, but I do spend far more time online and social networking than I’d like. Some days, the computer feels like my jailer. If I could live without the online world, I would.


    Comment by Vicki — August 31, 2013 @ 2:15 am | Reply

  7. What a simplistic conclusion. It isn’t an either or situation with social media. Like many things in life, it’s a matter of balance.

    And you know what? I think that truly happy people don’t need to compare their level of happiness with that of other people.


    Comment by mary — September 2, 2013 @ 8:54 am | Reply

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