How to be happy on social media
A 7 minute read • Simon Q
Part of our life hacks series. For many of us, social media has brought us closer together. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram let us share our lives with our friends and family in ways that were not possible before the Internet became so pervasive.
There’s no doubt that behind the holiday photos, videos of pets and near real-time interactions with brands we love, lurks darkness: trolls, shaming, insults and scams are all too common. Occasionally, this can lead to unpleasant consequences so we look at how to stay safe on social media in another article.
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Is social media use really harming us?
Newspapers and politicians regularly tell us how social media needs to be regulated and managed to allay the concerns of people who perceive it as harmful. There may be some merit in this and I believe Facebook and Twitter in particular need to do more to manage the ‘bots’ that propagate hate and misinformation, usually for political gain.
But what’s the evidence that our use of social media may be harmful to our mental health?
In 2016 the Guardian reported that quitting social media made young people happier2. Many of the people interviewed had experienced being ‘sucked into’ social media in a way that disrupted their lives and said that they felt liberated after quitting or reducing their use. Interestingly, in this report Facebook seems to be the greatest culprit with Snapchat and Instagram being less criticised as time-wasters.
In mid-2017, Forbes3 explored the ways that social media affects our mental health and highlighted as problems the addictive nature of social media, increased sadness, unhealthy comparison with others (status anxiety), jealousy and reduced real-world social interactivity. Again, Facebook bore the brunt of criticism.
Once more with a focus on Facebook, a report from the American Psychological Association indicates that passive use of Facebook can result in depression4, a conclusion that led to the UK’s Lancaster University issuing relevant advice to help its students avoid depression when using the platform5.
Facebook itself agrees with these findings6 but also points to evidence that active interaction rather than passive consumption is associated with well-being and a better sense of community.
Facebook does not come out well in these studies, possibly because it is the social network that is most frequently updated by friends, encourages a reaction to a post and provides a very visual and immersive experience. But the nature of the problems identified – addiction, status anxiety, sadness and reduced real-world social interactions – probably apply to other social networking sites too, especially when we use them passively.
To address these concerns we need to be more aware of how we use social media, its importance to us and how it makes us feel. To do this, we must better understand our motives for using social media and avoid the kind of behaviours that can lead to low self-esteem or worse. With this in mind, here are some tips to help you be happy on social media.
Tips on how to be happy on social media
Interact with people – as highlighted above, it’s better to interact with people on social media rather than passively browse multiple posts. You can react to posts in various ways with likes, shares, hearts and sad faces, but writing “congratulations”, “well done” or “great news” means so much more. I always feel good when I compliment someone and would be very surprised if you didn’t too. Try imagining the person you’re interacting with is in the same room to make it feel more personal.
Avoid ‘monkey mind’ – social media encourages users to ‘snack’ on information. We scan our newsfeeds and swing from one app to another rarely interacting and digesting more than a few words or pictures. I enjoy a more leisurely look through Facebook, reading posts that catch my eye and comments that add to the story. I may then read a web page linked from an interesting Facebook post but try not to jump to other apps. That way I stay focused on a small number of topics and avoid passively swinging through multiple updates like a monkey through trees in the jungle.
Be in the moment and avoid FOMO – this is the Fear Of Missing Out and has its roots in addictive behaviour. I used to scan Facebook until I found the last post I remember, just in case I missed something. I soon realised this is a folly as it’s quite tough to arrange your Facebook timeline chronologically. So don’t worry about what you missed; concern yourself with here and now and live in the moment.
Turn off notifications – this may seem a little drastic but it stops you becoming a slave to your social media. It’s rare that a social media post will need your immediate attention as most really important contact is made by other means. By turning off all (or some) of your notifications you are freeing yourself from FOMO and can focus on the moment.
Put your phone away when socialising – do you really need to check Twitter while you’re out for a meal with friends? I have a personal rule that I don’t check my phone when socialising – and so do most of my friends. I find it alarming when I see a family of four in a restaurant all blinking silently at their screens held beneath the table in some kind of shameful deceit [Ed: a true story].
Post with purpose – ask yourself why you are posting or sharing this information. What do you want people to think or do? As many politicians and well-known YouTubers have found out, ill-judged social media posts from yesteryear may return to bite you when you least expect or hope them to. By exercising a little judgement you can avoid embarrassment and give people a better idea of what interests you.
Avoid name-calling and shaming – no excuses here. Don’t judge. Don’t criticise; be constructive. Be nice or stay away. Again, try imagining the person you’re interacting with is in the same room and don’t say what you wouldn’t in person. By all means call out inappropriate comments but do so using ‘healthy challenge’ rather than getting into a spiral of hate that’s hard to get out of and impossible to win. Ignore trolls and remember that trolls need oxygen and your angry responses give them the fuel that keeps them trolling.
Beware of the cult of celebrity – we all have our guilty pleasures, celebrity crushes and follow a few famous people on social media. But it’s worth remembering that many of these megastars have a manufactured and manicured personality online that’s geared towards selling more music and merchandise. They’re not all like this so it’s worth following the ones that inspire you rather than those that make you envious or compelled to buy their latest fragrance.
Know the difference between moaning and asking for help – we’ve all had a good moan on social media. It’s really hard not to! But venting your frustration to others is rarely helpful to you or them and simply breeds negativity. On the other hand, getting support for a problem you are facing is a great way to use social media. So don’t moan; ask for help.
Don’t chase ‘likes’ – if somebody likes your post or tweet then that’s great. But there could be lots of reasons why people don’t react to your photo of a fancy lunch at an upmarket restaurant. Perhaps they’re just busy with things going on in their own lives. You don’t need ‘likes’ to be happy so just enjoy the lunch.
Avoid social media later in the evening – phone and computer screens can give out blue light which may affect your sleep. Plus you may read something that causes you to ruminate when you would really rather be going to sleep.
Do occasional ‘house cleaning’ – every few months I go through my Facebook account and stop following pages that have become dull or too insistent. We tend to constantly add to the number of people or pages we follow so having a clear out once in a while can help you focus on stuff and people that you find really interesting. And yes, house cleaning can apply to ‘toxic’ friends too; you don’t necessarily need to unfriend then, just turn off their updates.
To me, it makes no sense to blame the tools we use; we need to look at ourselves and our social media habits and think about how we can have a happier experience. It’s possible we may have to face a few home truths. What if you are addicted to your phone and struggle to manage without it? What if your social media use is hiding a more serious problem? There’s no shame in admitting that you may have a mental health problem that you could get help for. There’s plenty of support available via your doctor and a diagnosis can often give you the power to take control and turn things around7.
And if there is one takeaway that I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: social media seems to work best when people are actively engaged and focus on making it a positive experience. While this will vary in nature from person to person, if you focus on worthwhile causes and the feel good factor, you and your followers will be much happier.
Why not check out our sister article on staying safe on social media. Let us know what you think using the feedback form below. Did we miss anything? If you liked this life hacks series article about how to be happy on social media, please share it with friends or colleagues using the social media buttons below.
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