Social Media and Your Happiness

(Why I deleted Whatsapp…and then brought it back)

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Social media can be both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, it enables us to maintain relationships and close contact with our friends, near and far. It’s crazy to think that, just a few decades ago, it was barely possible to speak to someone in your own country – let alone have every person at your fingertips, wherever they are on earth.

As human beings, we truly need our relationships. In fact, multiple studies show that our social relationships – and the quality of them – are more important than any other single factor affecting our happiness.

For example, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, two of the leading positive psychologists, studied “very happy people” and compared them to people who were less happy; the only external factor that distinguished the two groups was the presence of “rich and satisfying social relationships.” Spending time with friends, family, or romantic partners was necessary… [This paragraph was extracted from Happier, by previous Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar].

Clearly, this is one area of your life worth focusing on. Presumably, this is also what the likes of Facebook and Whatsapp can help us with – connection and social relationships, right?

That said, there are a number of disadvantages to social media:

  1. It can cause us to rely too heavily on e-communication – fooling us into thinking that we are building/deepening our relationships more than we really are. In reality, nothing can ever replace a face-to-face interaction (or even a phone call!)
  2. Studies are showing that the more time we spend on Facebook, the unhappier we are. This is due to everyone’s else’s life looking cooler than our – especially when we are sat wherever we are scrolling through our Facebook feeds. The reality is, social media presents a biased and constructed storyline of someone’s life. No one’s life is that cool, all of the time. Seriously.
  3. Social media is causing us to multi-task, and never focus on any one thing. As a result, we are less efficient and frying our brains at the same time. (Just ask neuroscientist Richie Davison)
  4. It is causing us to procrastinate more and more

 

As well as removing the Facebook app from my phone a while back (to stop the neverending updates and pings on my phone), I recently deleted Whatsapp for around a month.

Given the above points, I thought this could turn out to be a really good thing. However, I surprised myself and actually found myself becoming lonelier. Yes, I could text and call people instead – in theory – but I wasn’t doing that. Whilst studying a Masters full-time, I have also been a little more isolated than usual anyway. Perhaps the timing just wasn’t right.

Having now re-installed Whatsapp, I am now deciding how best to manage it. I try to limit the number of ‘group conversations’ I am in as I find that they can often be messy, distracting and of limited value. Either the ‘conversation’ can be difficult to track or – if you’re an introvert like me – you prefer to stay on the fringes and/or can’t (or don’t want to) get a word in edgeways. For those group conversations which I am involved in, I “mute” these to avoid the stream of alerts over the day.

The trouble I find is that, unlike a phone/in-person conversation, there is no start or end point – the conversation is ongoing.

Again, this can be a good and a bad thing. Whilst I want to engage in meaningful conversations (ideally one-on-one) with those I am close to, it can become a burden when it feels it is never-ending, with lots of starts and stops. Worst of all, these interactions can sometimes feel superficial and lack any real value or meaning.

But then again, at least the conversation is taking place in the first place!

For now, whilst I continue to come up with a golden strategy for managing my social media in the best possible way, I will aim to:

  1. Meet a friend / person I am interested in each week
  2. Call a friend / person I am interested in each week

I will continue to use Whatsapp, but perhaps limit to checking it a couple of times during the day.

Hopefully, I can concentrate and focus on those relationships that are the most important ones to me.

Quality beats quantity – it is the strength of these relationships that determine the happiness we derive from them.

 

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