Every month, 1.65 billion people actively use the social media site Facebook. On average, each user spends 50 minutes using the site daily, which doesn’t sound like that much until you consider it’s more time than is spent on any other leisure activity except for watching TV.
In the U.S., Americans spend just 19 minutes, on average, reading each day and just 17 minutes on exercise, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.2 So the nearly one hour spent on Facebook is significant; it’s about the same amount of time spent eating and drinking (just over one hour).
Further, it’s just an average. Some people spend far more than one hour perusing Facebook every day (teens, for instance, may spend up to nine hours), the consequences of which are only beginning to be understood.
Lurking on Facebook May Make You Depressed
Spend any time on Facebook and you’ll be inundated with photos and posts depicting other people’s seemingly perfect families and lives. Such posts can induce feelings of envy and lead to unrealistic social comparisons that in turn bring down your mood and level of well-being. It can even lead to depression.3
A new study of more than 1,000 people in Denmark further revealed causal evidence that “Facebook affects our well-being negatively.”4 Facebook users who took a one-week break from the site reported significantly higher levels of life satisfaction and a significantly improved emotional life, the study revealed.
Such gains were greatest among heavy Facebook users, those who used the site passively (lurking but not necessarily interacting with others) and those who tended to envy others on Facebook.
If you’re a regular Facebook user interested in increasing your well-being, it might not be necessary to quit the site for good, however. The researchers suggested making adjustments in your usage behavior could be enough to prompt positive change:5
“To make things clear, if one is a heavy Facebook user, one should use Facebook less to increase one’s well-being. And if one tends to feel envy when on Facebook, one should avoid browsing the sections (or specific friends) on Facebook causing this envy.
And if one uses Facebook passively, one should reduce this kind of behavior. Due to habits, practicalities and potential ‘forecasting errors,’ it may be difficult to change one’s way of using Facebook. If this is the case, one should consider quitting Facebook for good.”
Forecasting Error: People Expect to Feel Better After Facebook Use — but Don’t
The aforementioned “forecasting errors” the researchers spoke of refer to a past study that found people expect to feel better after Facebook use, “whereas, in fact, they feel worse.”6
This makes perfect sense because if everyone expected Facebook to make them feel awful, they’d probably stop using it. Yet, on some level, many realize that using Facebook puts a damper on their mood.
Part of this is due to a feeling of having wasted time, according to a Computers in Human Behavior study, which also found Facebook activity (but not internet browsing) is associated with a dampened mood.7
Another study, conducted by researchers from Lancaster University in England, examined studies from 14 countries to explore the connection between Facebook usage and depression.
” … [T]he relationship between online social networking and symptoms of depression may be complex and associated with multiple psychological, social, behavioral and individual factors,” they noted.8 It was found that negative comparisons with others on Facebook were predictive of depression because they increased rumination.
Likewise, frequent posting on Facebook was also associated with increased rumination and depression. Women were more likely to become depressed than men due to Facebook usage, as were people with neurotic personalities. In addition, Facebook users were more at risk of depression if they displayed the following:9
- Felt envy after observing others
- Accepted former partners as Facebook friends
- Made negative social comparisons
- Made frequent negative status updates
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