Why Social Media is Making You Unhappy
Every day I log on and see the same empty shit going viral on social media, whether it’s Insta, FB or YouTube and it always leaves me thinking that these platforms weren’t created for this. What was originally a tool for social cohesion, somewhere where bridges could be built, we’re left with a waste ground full of vacuous narcism, virtusignalingng and attention-seeking. Where did it all go wrong?
Social media is only going to become more intertwined in our existence, it’s not going away. The backlash people long for, where society decides that enough is enough isn’t going to happen. The average person now spends 2 hours A DAY on social media, with teens spending up to 9 hours, and it’s only increasing, so rather than hope the platforms dwindle and die, it’s time to choose your content better.
I have just over 100k followers on IG, and yesterday on my Instagram stories, I took a poll asking them to they think social media is making them more or less happy. I was expecting it to be a rough split, vaguely down the middle, perhaps even touching on the happy side but nope. Check out the result:
So here we have 100k or so people who follow me, using IG daily, and over 80% of them, 4 out of every 5, find themselves LESS happy for using the very platform they responded on. So it begs the question, why do we do it?
So why do we do it?! Science, b*tch.
Social media is a dangerous game when we start to believe we can quantify our popularity, our output and our success by the traction we gain on social media. We can’t. That’s f*cking bullsh*t. And if you’re doing that. Stop. Stop chasing followers. Stop copying content ‘cos you think that’s what people want to see from you. Stop putting a fake version of yourself out to the world. It chips away at your very being. Your reality is more than enough, and in showcasing that, you’ll be much happier. But easier said than done. Why? Science, bitch.
Social media gets under our skin, quite literally. That’s largely thanks to two chemicals our brains produce, dopamine and oxytocin. Using social media, expecting that like/follow/comment releases Dopamine. So, dopamine basically relates to the reward we receive for an action, and for that reason it’s often known as the pleasure chemical. It’s the very same chemical that is released if you’ve ever partied a little too hard and taken Coke or MDMA. Pleasure is increased, and we all love a bit of pleasure. Then the dopamine kick fades away, and guess what? We’re left wanting more. So what do we do? Go and get it. That means picking up that phone again, pulling down on Instagram, longing for a new follower. Satiated, until the next time. A few minutes later.
Next up is Oxytocin. Oxytocin produces antidepressant-like effects in animal models of depression, so when you’re not getting it, it’s linked to depression in humans. Not surprised, right? So a hit of Oxy, and you’re surrounded in good-will. Less stress, more love, empathy engulfing you. Just a 10 minute Social Media binge can raise your Oxy by up to 15%!
Self Esteem, Social Currency & Self-presenting
And here’s where we need to self reflect a little bit, and it mightn’t feel too good, so strap yourself in. Acknowledgement of who we are is a difficult thing for everyone. We spend far too little time on working that out. What do we stand for, what do we believe in, where do our ethics and morals truly lie. None of it is set in stone of course, we can improve, and we should all aspire to be better human beings, but before we can work out what is better, we need first to work out who we currently are.
So our self-esteem is called into question. How do we truly feel about ourselves? Scary right? Social media can bypass that fear and allow us to avoid the difficult self-reflection. We can create a false, temporary sense of heightened self-esteem. We can self-present a version of ourselves that people will then assume to be us. We can then perceive their perception of us as our new selves, a better version of us, and BOOM. Our self-esteem is apparently at all-time high. Except it’s not. It’s a false high, just like the addict after their last hit.
“You look great in the pic”. “Wow, have you lost weight?”. “Another new outfit/watch/car? Susan must be doing so well in her career to afford all that”.
So, we self-present on social media. A tailored, thought-out, strategic update. A filter here, a spell-check there. That’s not available in real life. But your social media profile can be the perfect version of you. Preened and corrected, until we have Dopamine and Oxytocin coming out of our ears. Our social currency, with all our new friends and followers, all that traction on your recent update, has never been higher. So we share things not because we necessarily buy into the content we have shared, but because we know people will perceive us better. A study from the University of Pennsylvania showcased this perfectly. The results of the experiment show that the articles we share are most likely to be ones that provide the potential for self-enhancement and social promotion. The researchers found that our brains are very efficient in quickly deciphering which articles could show us in a positive light or offer social interaction when shared. So we do that. Rather than share who we truly are, we cherry pick things we believe will reflect well upon us. And the vicious cycle continues.
Not easy reading. So where does that leave our self-esteem? We have an outwardly hyper-edited, falsely-inflated self-esteem, ultimately aware that our projection isn’t entirely true, at best. The doubt in us though assumes that everyone else’s self-projection is accurate, leaving us feeling lower than had we not touched social media at all.
The Solution? Be Real Online & Recognise Realness
The solution for all this is staring us right in the face, although it’s one few of us choose to adopt. First up, be yourself on social media. Your true self. That doesn’t mean you have to discuss your deepest anxieties, but neither do you have to showcase a perfect life. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, please stop the glorification of inane, vacuous social media celebs. A perfect six pack won’t make you happy, and recognise they don’t look like that anyway! A new LV bag isn’t worth denting your house deposit for because some fake girl from Love Island seems happier with hers. She’s not.
Fitness, and fashion, and (travel for that matter) are all beautiful parts of our lives, but don’t let them consume you. Even worse, don’t let someone else’s obsession with them consume you further. You’re doing just fine. Focus on improving by all means but focus on improving yourself relative to yourself, not to a self-presented model of someone else. Please.
It comes as no surprise to me that youth suicide rates are up 50%+ in 10 years, social media has a lot to answer for. It’s powerful, so let’s use social media for good. To communicate, to build bridges, to understand our fortune and to help others without the same fortune. Let’s use aspirational figures as inspiration as we improve our health, skills, and lifestyles, but don’t get drawn into superficial fads. It’s destroying society.
If you find yourself scrolling through Insta or FaceBook and feeling worse for it, put it down. Unfollow the people that are making you feel inadequate, and spend some time following people who make you feel better, the people who help you aim higher and acheive. That’s the key to social media, that’s the way we can claim it back. Less Love Island/Big Brother/Kardashians, more genuine self-help, health and fitness, self-esteem builders.
Me? I need this advice as much as you guys. I try not to consume too much social media per day, and when I present my content, I hope it’s more of an aspirational flavour as opposed to one that generates jealousy or disdain if I’m failing let me know. We’re in it together.