Sign in for Depression

Social media has afforded us the ability to spend hours of our time looking at friends’ vacations, birthdays, weddings, and a variety of other momentous occasions. In effect we’re looking at peoples’ ‘highlight reels’. Sadly many people make the mistake of comparing their everyday lives to other’s highlights reels leading to jealousy, envy and even depression. But why do we feel the need to continually compare ourselves? Festinger’s social comparison theory suggests that there is a drive within individuals to gain accurate self-evaluations by evaluating their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to others. This initial framework was expanded upon by Willis, who introduced the concept of both upward and downward comparison. Upward social comparison is the tendency to compare oneself to those who are better off or superior which can lead to lower self-regard. Conversely, downward social comparison is a defensive tendency which entails comparing oneself to someone you consider to be worse off in order to elevate your self-regard. More often than not, people post positive content on social media to create the image that they are leading happy, successful lives. Our friends’ ‘highlight reels’ only offers a distorted, narrow view of what their lives are truly like. Therefore, it’s counterintuitive to use peoples’ social media projections of their lives as a benchmark for how to live our own lives or else we’ll continually feel as if we don’t measure up which will in turn lead to depressive symptoms.

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“How did Karen get married before me? I’m totally WAY better looking than her.” – Karen’s jealous friend

In accordance with this trend and Festinger’s social comparison theory, a new study has linked Facebook usage with depressive symptoms, with the mediating factor being this “social comparison.” In this new study, the researchers asked people about their Facebook use, how likely they were to make social comparisons (e.g., ”I always pay a lot of attention to how I do things compared with how others do things”), and how often they experienced depressive symptoms. It turned out that people who used Facebook more were more likely to have depressive symptoms. Using social media as a tool for comparison is a dangerous game to play. Just look at what happens when you type “social media makes me” into Google.

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Unsurprisingly, the study found that cutting down on time spent on social media can reduce this effect; however, the better alternative is to shift our attitude toward social media. From my own experience just this past Sunday, I saw a post from one of my friends about how he had written his first song on guitar. Having never even learned how to play a single instrument in addition to spending my entire Sunday in front of the TV watching football (Who Dat?), I felt pretty lousy and inadequate by comparison. The thing is, I’m certain that my friend has spent plenty of his Sundays doing the exact same thing. Furthermore, while meeting goals and creating long-lasting memories are important, the reality of the matter is that parts of life can be pretty unspectacular. Can you imagine if people represented what their actual lives were like during the average day? If everyone updated their social media profiles with statuses about the mundane things they do everyday? Social media would be a wildly different, far less interesting experience. We would see amazing pieces of content such as:

“Just finished vacuuming my room”

“Bought a new toothbrush at Rite Aid”

“Finished clipping my fingernails in record time!”

Obviously how we as users engage with the platform is the key driver to how it makes us feel. By using it as a tool to stay in touch with old friends and family, browsing Facebook can be a rich and rewarding experience. By using it to track others’ social and financial success and comparing ourselves, browsing Facebook can be a saddening and frustrating experience.

11 comments

  1. Hi, I liked the holistic view of this post. We have talked about these issues before; however, not as in-depth as you were able to in this post. Personally, I have found cutting myself off from Facebook altogether except for checking in on close friends and family members has really enhanced my life. I truly care about 10 of my 900 friends on Facebook so I simply only check in on those 10 so I can keep myself updated without needing to call or text. Hats off to those who can change their attitude toward social media so it does not detract from their daily life. I really enjoyed your genuine tone at the end talking about the true mundane experience of most of our lives.

  2. Loved this post, especially since holiday season is coming up and I feel like it’s always a competition to show who took the best vacation or is closest with their family. I agree, social media exacerbates all the good things and sometimes the bad (deaths, unlucky days, etc.) in people’s lives, but rarely the in between. The boring in-between is what we makes us human and relatable. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Nice post and I agree with @angelajin54 that this is particularly pertinent with the holidays coming up. I find that I don’t update statuses for that exact reason – all my status updates seem very mundane. And whenever I get the urge to post something boring like, “I Flipped my pillow over so it’d still be cold!”, I remind myself that no one really cares. And the people who like me enough to pretend that they care will get a phone call, instead. That being said, whenever I’m facebook friends with someone who posts too many statuses, I take them off my newsfeed. I suppose in that way I cull my facebook newsfeed to limit the amount of posts I compare my routine too, and find that the facebook friend who’s posts I enjoy seeing most often are those that save status updates for the truly important things.

  4. I love the Theodore Roosevelt quote “comparison is the thief of joy” and this seems to align nicely with what you have mentioned in your blog. I think this is important to remember when one feels compelled to compare statuses or shared photos. I also remind myself that there is something nice about not posting your every move – it almost makes the undocumented moment more personal since you are only sharing it with the people that perhaps matter the most. Nice, thoughtful blog.

    ps – @valdesae yes, to your “mundane” pillow comment. that would be a pure gold post!

  5. This is a nice peek into the user psychology of social media nowadays. Besides the upward and downward comparison you have mentioned, there is also the element where people consciously or subconsciously tailor the the content of their post to please their audience , and then enjoy the satisfaction from (the sense of ) popularity. I think a lot of this boils down to the people’s inability to think critically outside of the norms and expectations of society and define what truly matter to them. Once they have that, whether others are doing better or worse on all the other aspects should become irrelevant. For me, a healthy perspective for social media should be something like this: know your strengths and weaknesses, and instead of spending time getting jealous, figure out how to improve what you can improve for a better life and reconcile with what you can not change.

  6. This is one of the most relate-able posts I’ve seen yet, and this sort of thing unfortunately I think happens to myself and my friends more often than not. When I see my friends react negatively to pictures of their significant others with members of the opposite sex, or when I feel instances of jealousy when I see acquaintances of mine seemingly living great lives, the frustration that results is unfathomable. Luckily though, because of posts like this, I’ve been able to take a different perspective on social media posts: we all live difficult lives in one way or another, no matter what our social media pages might indicate. And while this is a sad phenomenon and I wish everyone could live easy, happy, well-off lives, there is a level of comfort to know that we are all actually on the same playing field, living lives with constant struggles that many of us have in common. Great post!

  7. Really thoughtful post, love the idea of a “highlight reel” because that’s exactly what it is! People are only going to take pictures when there is something to take pictures of. I remember hearing or reading somewhere that, yes, looking at other people’s profiles lowers self-esteem or can trigger depressive symptoms, but also that looking at your own profile can increase self-esteem!

    So maybe when people start getting caught up in other people’s lives, reflecting on your own (and seeing it through others’ eyes) can counterbalance that. A quick google search brought tons of articles up about it, including this one http://www.livescience.com/37060-facebook-profile-self-esteem-boost.html.

    Also, there are a lot of studies out there about what your Facebook profile and activity says about you and your personality. Some interesting things I read were that people with more Facebook friends tend to have lower self-esteem and that open people (described as artistic, imaginative, and creative) use the most features on Facebook and are most likely to complete the personal information sections (http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/10/31/what-your-facebook-use-reveals-about-your-personality-and-your-self-esteem/). It’s fascinating and kind of weird to think that now that so much of our behavior is online, psychological studies can be conducted or inferred without even meeting or conversing directly with us.

  8. It is interesting that people who use Facebook more are more likely to have depressive symptoms. I think there are negative effects that come from constantly comparing ourselves to others, but people need to learn how to evaluate people’s progress without being disappointed with themselves. I agree that Facebook is a great way of continuing relationships with people that are hard to reach, and we need to realize that Facebook is not a complete life story of people. For most people, Facebook only records a small part of people’s lives, rarely capturing the struggles that most people go through. I think this is also a bigger problem with our generation because we have a such an attachment to documenting our lives via Facebook. I found it really interesting to look at the effect Facebook has on our mental health and reflect on my own experience with this theory.

  9. Nice post. I have some friends/ colleagues doing similar research. I do wonder if there a causality issue, though. Perhaps depressed people are more likely to go and look at Facebook?

  10. I really like your post! You’re right – we choose similar topics this week but have different focuses. It surprised me that there’s no positive word popped up as you mentioned when I typed “Social media makes me” into Google. Social media is a double-edged sword for sure, but fortunately we has the power to decide how to take advantage of it. Good job!!

  11. Interesting post, I actually covered some of the same themes about the “highlight reel” back when I wrote my initial blog post in September. When I first came to BC, I was struggling socially as I was trying to join a friend group and find my niche at this school. Every time I would go on Facebook that first semester, it seemed that all I was seeing were photos of my high school classmates hanging out with all their friends, partying, and doing cooler/more fun things than I was doing. As much as I tried to convince myself that those weren’t completely representative of their college experiences, and that they’re not having as much fun as they’re making it look like, I still couldn’t help but compare my experience to theirs and get down on myself. It’s for this reason that I actually deactivated my Facebook account that year, and to this day I haven’t gone back. I honestly feel that I live a happier life without Facebook, despite the few minor inconveniences when it comes to communicating with people or keeping in touch with others. Solid post overall, I definitely agree with your main argument and my experience is a prime example.

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