Health

Facebook Is Getting in the Way of Your Happiness

Published On 01/05/2016 Published On 01/05/2016
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Think back to the last time you spent the day doing better things than checking your notifications. Didn’t it feel like a great weight lifting from not only your thumb and index finger, but also your soul?

That feeling is no coincidence. Spending less time on Facebook might be just as important for your health as eating right. Social media’s got its place for staying in touch, but it’s become so much more -- and so much less -- thanks to ad saturation, oversharers, and idiots in their natural habitat.

Over the years, many studies have shown that Facebook is running you down mentally, and this past year saw a boom in "Facebook is bad for you" research. Now if only you could just… deactivate… that account…

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It turns you into an obsessive, jealous type

Facebook’s been linked to anxiety and depression several times (fun!), but now there’s a study explaining what that link is: jealousy.

Surveying more than 1,000 Facebook users at a German university, the authors found that users felt envious and inadequate from looking at friends’ timelines (and travel photos in particular).

And that’s probably why we’ll keep seeing epicurean cheeseburger porn and quintessential “feet and beach” shots in our news feeds forever. Participants admitted to posting in order to keep up appearances, because of jealousy from other people’s (equally curated) photos.

Well played, Facebook. You’ve created a vicious cycle.

Get on the self-esteem roller coaster

Facebook is kind of like putting on 3D goggles and trying to walk by mirrors and through rotating tubes, which is really an amusement park attraction, and is insanely difficult. But take off those glasses and you realize it’s all just an illusion.

That’s the takeaway from cellphone maker HTC’s recent survey, which found that two-thirds of people posted images intended to make themselves seem more adventurous.

Real life often doesn’t match up to what’s on a timeline. Travel bloggers are perfect examples. Remember the couple on Instagram who jumped off cliffs and trekked along fjords, but had to make ends meet scrubbing toilets? There's a metaphor in there somewhere.

Pinch yourself, people. Those “looking over a mountain at sunset” shots don’t always tell the whole story.

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It's actually a lot like a drug

Surprisingly, there’s not as much difference between your brain on coke and your brain on cute animal videos and inspirational quotes as you might think.

Some of the craziest research on social networking and health found that the brains of people who are "addicted" to Facebook aren't all that different from those of people addicted to drugs, when viewed through brain-imaging technology. There was some good news, though: the scientists conducting the study also found that Facebook addicts still possessed the ability to inhibit their behavior, unlike their drug-addicted counterparts. On the one hand, this is reassuring, but on the other, weren't you kind of hoping for a "you can't help yourself" explanation?

Mo’ friends = mo’ problems

It’s already been established that the more Facebook friends you have, the more likely you are to feel stressed out (for various reasons). But a closer look at this phenomenon shows that this effect can have long-term consequences, especially for those who get hooked on friending at an early age.

Teenagers with more than 300 Facebook friends had higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Over time, high cortisol levels can cause the brain to shrink, and reduce the number of new brain cells it makes, affecting concentration and decision-making over time.

So taking an axe to your friend list isn't just a good way to relax on a day-to-day level, but it could save you from serious consequences down the line.

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It's "the other woman (or man)" in your relationship

Facebook can be a cruel mistress. The University of Missouri examined a wide swath of users aged 18 to 82 (!), and found that social networking is a pressure cooker for couples.

People who used it excessively had more fights with partners, and were “more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners,” researcher Dr. Russell Clayton told The Daily Mail. Does this mean there are 82-year-olds stalking their exes on Facebook?!

Many of those conflicts also led to breakups and cheating, of both the emotional and physical variety. The findings were especially true for bright, sparkly relationships of less than three months.

Happiness is a deactivated account

If all this still doesn’t convince you that Facebook can be worse for you than a diet of burgers and fries, consider this study from the succinctly named Happiness Research Institute. The think tank asked some people to quit Facebook, and found they felt happier, and less worried and lonely than the control group (that didn't quit) after only one week.

A big factor was that participants also reported spending more time with friends and being social.

Happier and more social than the social network, huh? Who knew?

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Barbara Woolsey is a Thrillist contributor who spent 30 minutes doing “research” on Facebook for every 15 minutes writing this article. Find more of her stuff on (obviously) Facebook and Twitter.

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