Time to call it quits?
Little did we know when Facebook was born 11 years ago, we would all become slaves to Mark Zuckerberg’s transformation of social networking as we knew it. It’s continued to develop throughout the years, and now over one billion people actively use Facebook. Undoubtedly, it provides an easy way to stay connected with family and friends, but new research from the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark reveals that the addictive site might be doing more harm than good to our mental health.
Over 1,000 Danish volunteers agreed to take part in the institute’s research — 94 percent of them reported regularly visiting Facebook as part of their daily routine, and nearly 80 percent said they use Facebook for over 30 minutes per day.
The researchers divided the participants into two groups: a control group and a “treatment” group who had to quit Facebook for one week. A week doesn’t sound like a long time to unplug from the social network, but the treatment group reported some compelling benefits from staying away from Facebook.
88 percent of the treatment group reported feeling “happy” after the week’s end, slightly higher than 81 percent of the control group who continued checking the site as much as usual. However, there was a laundry list of other psychological benefits reaped by the treatment group. They reported feeling less lonely, more enthusiastic, less worried, and more decisive. Plus, the Facebook abstainers said they’d actually spent more face-to-face time with family and friends.
Perhaps the most damaging factor of social media is our inclination to compare other people’s perfect-looking lives to our own. We see fellow Facebook users posting happy pictures with family, friends, and lovers. We see picture perfect photographs of beach getaways and culture-rich travels to unique places around the globe. We see statuses about someone landing an awesome new job, or finally achieving the end goal of that 20-pound weight-loss challenge. It can make our own lives feel painfully monotonous.
As Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, told The Guardian, “Facebook is a constant bombardment of everyone else's great news, but many of us look out of the window and see grey skies and rain, (especially in Denmark!)”
The study authors highlighted “Facebook envy,” which is at the core of the negative psychological effects of the social media site. "Instead of focusing on what we actually need, we have an unfortunate tendency to focus on what other people have," the authors wrote.
Sophie Anne Dornay, a 35-year-old study participant, told The Guardian that after quitting Facebook, she noticed her to-do list was getting done much quicker than before. “I also felt a sort of calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time.”
Plus, she noticed that she was having longer phone conversations than usual and reached out more to her family and friends. “It felt good to know that the world doesn’t end without Facebook and that people are still able to reach you if they want to,” she said.
Indeed, the world does not end without Facebook. If its existence in our lives takes away from our happiness, perhaps it’s time for all of us to take a break from the site.
Next step for the researchers? They plan to study the effects of a whole year away from Facebook. Hopefully they can find enough takers.