Does Facebook make us unhappy?

Whether Facebook makes us unhappy or connected is a question that can readily show up conflicting answers. The night before yesterday, I had this massive urge to “look up” a few people who I had mercilessly thrown out of my Facebook account several years back. One thing led to the other, and I spent a large part of my time social snacking from one picture to another between one profile to another. I had a great number of feelings at this point.

Does Facebook make us Unhappy


  • I felt embarrassed of my social snacking– I judged myself. This must mean, I have nothing else to do (wrong: I had tons to finish, but I could not stop looking at photographs. It felt like reading cheap fiction or being addicted to Twitter feed from Justin Bieber)
  • Was I unhappy in real life for looking at other people’s photographs? (wrong: I have not been feeling this peaceful in years. I am cured of online shoe shopping.)
  • Why did half of them not realize that profile pictures are “public” by default? Did they do it on purpose to garner more likes? ( note: some people are ignorant)
  • Why was I feeling miserable with Facebook? (fact)

Just as a regular Facebook and social media nerd, I looked up some research. One side says there’s a positive impact of Facebook on “self-esteem” decidedly, a happy thing, one may argue. The other side disagrees. Following is the collective research:

Participants that updated their profiles and viewed their own profiles during the experiment also reported greater self-esteem, which lends additional support to the Hyperpersonal Model. These findings suggest that selective self-presentation in digital media, which leads to intensified relationship formation, also influences impressions of the self.

This also seemed more prominent in “collectivist” cultures (e.g. China, India) where Facebook had a stronger impact on self-esteem and acceptance. Reminded me of a time when a Facebook India employee told me the different between Indian and American Facebook pictures was sometimes the number of “group” pictures the Indians posted.

Online social networking (e.g. Facebook) not only directly influences university students’ learning outcomes, but also helps the students attain social acceptance from others and adapt to university culture, both of which play prominent roles in improving their learning outcomes.

We find positive relationships between intensity of Facebook use and students’ life satisfaction, social trust, civic engagement, and political participation.

So, what are the cons, and at what point does Facebook make us unhappy?

Nonetheless, greater use of the Internet was associated with declines in participants’ communication with family members in the household, declines in the size of their social circle, and increases in their depression and loneliness. 

Referred to this effect as “friendly world syndrome”, where it seems like everybody is having a better time than you….on an average others have more friends and are more popular (additional theory)

When participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

I figured for me the unhappy parts were exactly right. I was feeling the whole world was on a beach while I sat quietly in my Munich apartment in a thunderstorm. I was also totally binging on random pictures of random people without so much as a need to say anything or even like them mildly. It was just making me feel voyeuristic. And somehow my social conditioning is such that, that makes me feel embarrassed. Although, going through pictures on Pinterest makes me feel inspired. Maybe it is the 6 degrees of separation.

Earlier: Has social media innovated loneliness?; What happens when you disconnect Facebook?; What happens when you share a picture on social each day?

Upasna Kakroo