Online Social Networks and happiness

Online Social Networks and happiness

Check out this article I recently published on the Telstra site…

Is Facebook the evil face of a new cyber-reality in which we sit behind computer screens and never interact with other people in the “real world”? Is Twitter a destructive force spoiling the grammar and literacy skills of our young people and turning us all into “twits”?

If you listen to some predictions, social networks are ruining the world as we know it. According to some, the internet is contributing to a world full of isolated, socially awkward, inept communicators with no interpersonal skills and increasing levels of certain types of psychopathology.

But, that’s by no means the whole story; there are always multiple ways of looking at things; and in fact, if one carefully reviews the research there are many benefits associated with internet use and with involvement in social networking. Although nothing is perfect and there may well be some people who “hide behind” the internet and/or use it as an excuse not to interact with real people in the real world there are many others, most I would say, for whom the internet and specifically, sites such as Facebook are a positive for their lives and for their mental health and wellbeing.

So let’s begin by side-stepping some of the hyped up media commentary and by focusing instead on the research.

First, there’s no doubt that good quality relationships and positive support networks boost happiness and wellbeing. Happiness is most definitely not a selfish or solo endeavour; rather, it’s a team sport that involves caring for oneself but also caring for others. Compassion, love, thoughtfulness, generosity and other traits and behaviours are the cornerstones of real and meaningful happiness. As Chris Peterson, one of the world leaders in positive psychology has been quoted as saying, when it comes to happiness “other people matter”.  Good connections and friendships don’t just boost our positive emotions; they do assist with this but they also buffer against stress and negative emotions contributing to our resilience.

Second, despite some rather hysterical claims, online social networks mostly add to our real world social networks and connections. That is, rather than replacing real life interactions, online interactions facilitate and enhance our real friends. Now this is not to say that there might not be people out there who spend too much time on Facebook or who allow their cyber-world to take over their real world; but as far as we can tell at the moment, from the early publications in this area, for most people internet interactions tend to enhance their lives by enabling them to interact, catch up, feel like they belong and to communicate with like-minded people.

So what does this all really mean and how can you utilise the power of online social networks to enjoy more happiness?

Well, consider the following tips and find a way to make them work for you:

  • Be clear about how and why you’re using social media (including being clear about what is and isn’t appropriate to post online!)

  • Enjoy apps like Facebook for what they are but remember that they’re best use is to facilitate and enhance (not replace) real world relationships

  • So use your networking to get to know people better as well as using their networks to meet new people and discover new activities and interests

  • And finally, get out from behind your computer every now and then and enjoy the pleasures of other people’s company

And if you’re really interested in this then you might also be interested to know that here at The Happiness Institute we’re using a range of social networking applications to try to build a community of positivity. Mostly via Twitter and Facebook we’re connecting people from all around the world who’re interested in positive psychology and who want to talk about and focus on happiness and how to be happier. We provide a forum for these people to ask questions and to interact in a supportive and encouraging context. And as a result, we’ve no doubt that we’re taking steps towards achieving our primary goal which is to make as many people as possible happy! If this sounds good to you, come along and join us because life’s too short not to be happy!

What makes you happy when interacting with people in online communities?