However, we can not only learn to avoid them — we can even use social media to make us happier!
Social media is a powerful procrastination tool, but many studies have shown that it can be bad for your overall well-being. A direct link has been made between too much time spent on Facebook and depression; it may even cause physical problems for those who struggle with their weight.
Perhaps most disturbing is the evidence showing that getting those coveted “likes” and comments causes your body to release dopamine, the chemical related to pleasurable feelings. Your body releases dopamine in a wide range of circumstances, from seeing a picture of someone you love to eating delicious food.
Facebook can bombard you with dopamine-inducing experiences in short-lived jolts that leave you wanting more — similar to how a gambler or alcoholic feels when engaging in addictive behavior.
Though the scientific evidence is hard to argue with, we don’t need studies to tell us that social media can hurt. As Pavithra Mehta explains, “We live in a time when we have mastered the art of ‘liking’ each other online, but have forgotten the art of loving each other in real life.”
Social networking gives us “one-click” interactions instead of richer, “hearts-up” interactions. Hearts-up interactions are those in which you’re truly present with another, engaging with him or her as a full person and taking the time to thoughtfully enhance the relationship. This is what we humans strive for: authentic bonds that lift, enhance, and deepen our connections so we respect and admire who we truly are.
“One-click” interactions are the type most people have online. We wade through hundreds of superficial updates and flatter others with “likes” and validation. We give — and get — that hit of dopamine with our fellow junkies. We’re quick to click and slow to provide thoughtful, encouraging responses.
We feel inadequate when we see others’ seemingly perfect lives in impressive, highly curated pictures and updates. This is not authentic — despite the fact that we do the same with our own updates. It’s a vicious cycle that’s leading to a phenomenon of people feeling lonelier.
All this social media noise removes the silence we have in hearts-up interactions. Think of it like a fire. A fire is made with wood, but the fire exists because of the spaces between the sticks and logs. In the same way, authentic words light the fire of a relationship and form true connections. The way we interact on social media is like striking lots of matches that burn out quickly but never start a roaring fire.
Social media has led to an epidemic of disconnection among young and old alike. The best way to counter this is to become a conscientious participant and use social media to grow closer to your true friends. Here are a few ideas.
- Defriend people.
Don’t be afraid to remove people who are negative or inauthentic. It’s difficult to be your true self if you’re constantly wondering, “What will they think of me?” True friends want to celebrate you, while others jump to judgment.
- Click into real life.
Supplement online interactions with real-life ones. Celebrate each other’s updates, but then get coffee and create shared intimacy.
- Pause before you post.
Stop sharing things that lack substance. If you’re posting popular links and images to be validated by others, you’re probably falling into the depersonalization trap. Before posting, ask yourself whether your update is genuine, positive, and uplifting.
- Clean up your neighborhood.
If your neighborhood’s full of trash, you can continue to pollute or you can get together with your friends and clean it up for everyone’s benefit. Stop doing things out of obligation or mindlessness. Decide as a group to foster an approach that creates a positive experience. You’ll find that once you “clean up” your social neighborhood, it becomes a welcoming place for other people.
- Stop the dopamine hits.
Turn off your alerts. The incessant notifications remind us that we need that next dopamine hit, leading us to use social media more and more to get validation. It’s a trap.
Social media seems harmless, but it can have negative effects on users’ self-esteem and relationships. Your goal in using social media should be to simplify. Focus on sharing and responding only to those things that elevate your relationships. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”