Riding the roller coaster of happiness that is Facebook

Published: August 31, 2012
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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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Syma Ahmed

Syma Ahmed

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

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