Research from The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen in Denmark (one of the happiest countries in the world) has found that giving up your Facebook account boosts happiness and reduces anger and loneliness.
Life satisfaction rose significantly in the space of a week when participants were unable to read the updates of their friends. The institute was surprised by the changes in such a short time and wants to raise awareness on the influence of social media on feelings of fulfilment.
Facebook and other social media sites are “a constant flow of edited lives which distort our view of reality” it said in its report The Facebook Experiment.
They recruited over a thousand people in Denmark and asked half of them to avoid Facebook for a week. Participants were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after the experiment.
Those who continued to use Facebook (the control group) scored an average of 7.67 before and 7.75 afterwards.
Those who gave up Facebook scored 7.56 before and 8.12 afterwards. They also reported an increase in “real world social activity” and were less angry and less lonely than those who had continued to use Facebook. 88% of them declared themselves happy compared to 81% pf Facebook regulars and 84% said they were enjoying life compared to 75% of Facebook regulars.
The head of the Institute, Meik Wiking, said “We have known for some time that social comparisons matter when it comes to life satisfaction. So we thought, let’s see whether we can detect a Facebook effect because of this constant bombardment of great news happening to other people. Every time you look someone is getting married or has a great job in New York or having a holiday in Tahiti. How does this affect our perception of reality and how we value our own lives?”
The research found that the Facebook effect had roughly half the impact on life satisfaction as attributed to the disparity in income between the richest and poorest 10% of the population.
Wiking urged Facebook users to share more of their failures and disappointments. “We hope the experiment helped to highlight the negative impact of being bombarded with a distorted reality”
Facebook has been used previously for social research. In 2013 a paper was produced about emotional contagion (see summary below). In essence a sample of almost 700,000 Facebook users were fed either or negative news.
We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.
There was an issue about lack of informed consent as Facebook users weren’t told about it (but Zuckerberg doesn’t care about your privacy).
And this idea of “friends” on Facebook is stretching the meaning of the word in an increasingly narcissistic society where what others think of you is, sadly, more important than what you think of yourself (See So many Friends….)