They keep leaping out at you. Happy couple with a bottle of red in front of a roaring fire. Group of friends posing on 5th Avenue, the ultimate Manhattan Christmas. Not to mention endless shots of cute kiddies sitting in mounds of gift wrap (‘She liked the paper more than the gift LOL!’).
It’s good to see what everyone is doing and the far-flung places they have jetted off to and it goes without saying that social media is great and a big part of most of our lives. A whopping 94% of us use Facebook as part of our daily routine and 78% of us use it for 30 minutes or more every day. It’s a cracking way to link up, keep in touch and share news about your life, but there are drawbacks. There’s Facebook envy, for starters.
One idyllic Christmas picture too many can leave even the most confident of us with a nagging sense of self-doubt. A feeling that we’re not doing enough, not beautiful enough, not happy enough. Okay, so the tree looks pretty cool but did YOU spend all morning making gingerbread decorations with the kids? Your romantic stroll around a Christmas market in Manchester seemed like a one to notch up until you see a group of friends have done the real thing and been on weekend hops to the legendary Christmas markets of Budapest.
According to the cheerily named Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, 5 out of 10 of us envy the amazing experiences others post on Facebook and 1 in 3 of us envy how happy people posting on it seem to be. The Institute recently published a study which found people reported significantly lower signs of stress (55%) when they stopped using Facebook for a week or more.
They took 1095 Facebook users and split them into two groups. Half used it as usual and the other half were forced to go cold turkey and have no access to Facebook. After one week, the group without Facebook reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction. They also reported feeling happier and being less sad and lonely.
On top of this, people experienced an increase in their social activity (in the ‘real world’ not on Facebook) and also increased satisfaction with their social life. Concentration was an issue too. After a week without, the no-Facebookers said they experienced fewer concentration difficulties, were 18% more likely to feel present ‘in the moment’ and that they wasted their time less.
It goes without saying that the Happiness Research Institute wades through a lot of data on happiness and one of the things that often comes up, is how comparing ourselves to our peers can increase dissatisfaction.
‘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’, says the Institute’s CEO, Meik Wiking. ‘This makes Facebook world, where everyone’s showing their best side, seem even more distortedly bright, by contrast.’
This time of year can make all of this stuff even more intense, as most of us spend at least some time over Christmas with family, and they can be our harshest critics. Got a boyfriend yet? When are you going to get a proper job? You should get a move on if you want to have kids. Since when did you start drinking mint tea (you have changed). Gosh, do the kids always whine like this? And so on.
And if your self esteem is taking a battering, Facebook can compound it. The researchers noticed that instead of focusing on what we need, we have a tendency to focus on what other people have. ‘Social media is a non stop great news channel’, says the Institute. ‘A constant flow of edited lives, which distorts out perception of reality.’
Realistically, unless a cool sounding research organisation comes knocking on our door, we’re more likely to be photographing our perfect roast turkey than going cold turkey on Facebook. But when shots of the beautiful people start coming in thick and fast, maybe we need to take a step back from time to time and remember Wiking’s words – it’s everyone showing their best side.
And do us all a favour. See it as your social duty to post the odd picture of the sad untouched sprouts, the stroppy toddler tantrum and the bloody tangled tree lights which for the love of God won’t be untangled. If there’s one way to give everyone a laugh and make us all feel good about ourselves, that’s it.
Words by Alexandra Borthwick