Riding the roller coaster of happiness that is Facebook

Published: August 31, 2012

According to our Facebook timeline, we also never falter─we are wise, optimistic, as beautiful as we can possibly look, and always very happy! DESIGN: IMAAN SHEIKH

Facebook is not just a social network, it is a phenomenon that has changed our lives in significant ways. No matter how real it seems, with the familiar faces of our friends and family, at the end of the day it is a virtual, make-belief world, which lacks reality.

For most of us, life has become too busy. The rat race coupled with our relentless pursuit of growth and finding happiness in some distant part of the world has resulted in us being more disconnected with our close ones. It is not surprising that about a billion people are active on Facebook.

In an article published in Forbes, Jenna Goudreau highlights that the proportion of women on Facebook exceeds the proportion of men. Research by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers suggests that despite the fact that the lives of women in the US have improved in many ways since 1972, the happiness of women has declined both in absolute terms and relative to men. Facebook adds a new complexity to life in the 21st century.

On the surface we seem to be happy going through our friends’ updates, but at a deeper level, some of us actually feel sad after looking at the portraits of happiness that we try to paint on Facebook. We use Facebook to share the ultimate presentation of ourselves: a platform to showcase our achievements, our beautiful family, the exotic locations we visited recently, and the restaurants we ate at.

There is a problem with this hunky dory image that we portray of our lives. We completely downplay the sad moments, the challenges we face, and the disappointments we have.

I am not suggesting that we put our sob stories and grudges out there. I just want readers to be cognizant of the fact that our lives on Facebook often encapsulate only the happy moments. Happiness is relative.

For some of us, it is not good enough to be happy, but it is important to be happier than others.

Movies based on happy stories leave most of us feeling quite cheerful, exalted, and uplifted. It is because we know that movies are a medium used to create a certain effect.

Contrary to the film medium, Facebook seems very real and true. Yet how many times do we put up photos of the times when we are fighting as if it was the end of the world? Do we ever let our Facebook friends know that we’re angry like a raving lunatic, throwing our hot new Blackberry or iPhone with such a vengeance that it flies across the room and lands in the most inconvenient spot? We all look less attractive and desirable then, and these are the fine details of our lives that you will never find out on Facebook. The naive ones think that their friends actually live a life as glossy as their Facebook timelines reveal, and therein lay the problem.

If you were to meet the same friends in person, you would discover many interesting things about them which are not on Facebook. You might find out that they do not always enjoy the tantrum that their toddler throws, contrary to what is depicted through their recent Facebook status. In real life, these ‘super awesome Facebook parents’ are overwhelmed at handling a spirited little one with a mind of his own, intent on having his way or the high way! But the desire to be the perfect parent is something that can perhaps only be satiated in the make-belief world.

There are a few solutions to be happy in a connected world. For starters, use Facebook occasionally.

We can do more meaningful things that would actually make us happy, like saying ‘thank you’ to someone, or keeping a journal.

Secondly, if you like sharing your views, then create a personal blog. It is like a journal of your thoughts, musings, ideas about things, people, events and about anything that matters to you. Blogs are far more intellectually intense compared to most activities on Facebook.

Facebook is designed for us to ride on the happy wave. It has a “like” button and not a corresponding “hate” or “dislike” button. According to our Facebook timeline, we also never falter─we are wise, optimistic, as beautiful as we can possibly look, and always very happy!

An advice for the frail-hearted people who take things to heart: use Facebook with caution.

Studies show that teenagers spend a significant amount of time making their profile look ‘cool’. When we were teenagers, we weren’t on Facebook. Thank the Lord for little mercies! We actually have lived a “real” life!

Do you think Facebook has the tendency to give rise to negative feelings?

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Follow Syma on Twitter @symaahmed

Syma Ahmed

Syma Ahmed

A marketing consultant teaching marketing, research, and brand management, Syma tweets as @symaahmed and blogs at symaahmed.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    What really irritates me on fb are the couples who upload a million photographs of their private / intimate moments. Someone i know posted about 5-6 pics ( Taken from every conceivable angle) of the marital bed with rose petals on it… I wanted to ask her what made her limit it to that … uske baad kya hua ? woh bhi daal do … Shouldn’t your time with ur spouse be private?.. Does the whole world and their father need to know the intimate details of ur life? Shaadi sabki hoti hai unless u r some monster with fangs for teeth,ten hands and a bum the size of 2 large footballs, so stop behaving like ur getting married was a feat that no one else is gonna achieve .. Common sense is the one thing that is not common at all ….. Recommend

  • Adil

    Briiliant insight and oh so true! Time to ponder on the great big yonder…Recommend

  • T Khan

    And the point is? Recommend

  • Ayesha Khan

    This was a wonderful wonderful read. Thank you for thisRecommend

  • Call me chocolate

    Absolutely brilliant write-up. Recommend

  • Saif Khan

    Indeed Facebook is a joy in our life which connects use with our love-ones but unfortunately only 60 million people in Pakistan use the Facebook out of 18 crore population which makes it only 3.3% of the total.
    Facebook has still along way to go in Pakistan to connect the whole nation. Recommend

  • tj

    Totally and what irritates me alot is people uploading gazillion pictures of their new borns..really we get it you had a kid, stop killing us. And you are so right about facebook just being about happy , whenever i have bad times and the craving to post something about it , or how a scary situation was dealt with, which i dont as there are friends and family on facebook, i then realize my own timeline is so fake and doesnt truly depict my life , just one minimal side of it.and since when has what did we eat or where did we go become important to the world?Recommend

  • Hassam Tahir

    Apparently the author hasn’t gone through a gothics profile.Recommend

  • Raheel

    Fabulous post, Syma!Recommend

  • Girl

    Ah I’m glad I read this, a very sensible post.Recommend

  • Shuja Ul Islam

    agreed..!!Recommend

  • http://symaahmed.com Syma Ahmed

    @Nandita.: I agree with your observation. Perhaps some things are best left private. Well, there are people who are single out there or infertile and the full post on the topic on my personal blog highlights how people facing certain challenges get very uncomfortable with their friends’ seemingly full lives.Recommend

  • http://symaahmed.com Syma Ahmed

    @T Khan: The point is that forewarned is forearmed. All of us might not realize what Facebook is doing to our behavior, outlook, psychology, and relationships. Keeping a balance is easier said than done. Research suggests that Facebook actually can make us sad. There is evidence to support that Facebook does not have the same effect as popping a happiness pill of some sort. It is something that is worth thinking about.Recommend

  • Hira

    Loved this article Syma! (Y)Recommend

  • http://a umarz

    agree! i am totally against of FB these days specially for the pupose that ppl have started using it..
    fyii i have deactivated myself :DRecommend

  • casim

    Nice article! Facebook has limited our life to this virtual world where one tries to beat other in terms of “who looks better” or “who had an amazing feat or time”, to me it is just childish to make everything public! I mean do we have to put a status update for every second of what we do? do we have to upload all kinds of picture or pictures? do we have to tag the places where we go to? In reality FB is a place where people fake their emotions which is only limited to the “LIKE” button on it or limited to what is best & cool in us, of what really is our fake depiction on it, what stays in it stays there but it never comprehends into the real life as people these days are more self indulgent than ever before, they care less about others in reality. FB is nothing but a collection of fake emotions for others & unreal depiction of ourselves.Recommend

  • Sana

    @Nandita.:
    Seriously, you were spot on there – totally agree with you on this one!Recommend

  • Jav

    Very true!
    5 stars for the article. Superb!!!Recommend

  • Wardah

    this is so true. the worst part is Facebook is addictive. u can’t help checking it every now and then. my husband thinks i am lacking on other more important things cause I’ve started using facebook a lot. its ruining us which is sad and we all need to improve somewhere or the other. inshaAllah.Recommend