Does Facebook Make You Sad?

After my team mates have already written quite a few interesting posts about Facebook and other social media and after reading an article concerning a recent study about how Facebook is supposed to make us unhappier, I decided to investigate that matter a little deeper as well as adding some personal experiences to it.

What I Found
The articles I read were mainly based on studies of the Utah Valley University and Stanford University. In the study of the Utah Valley University around 450 students were asked about their experiences and emotions concerning Facebook. They were asked if they thought that many of their friends had a better life than they did, and if life seemed fair to them. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) many students answered that they felt that their friends were happier than they were and that life did not seem fair to them.

The studies also accounted for the time the web users spent on Facebook and how many friends they had. What they discovered was, that Facebook users who spent more time on Facebook and who had many friends felt unhappier and more underprivileged compared to their fellow users.

The True Story Behind It
But why do we think that others are happier than we are? Well, the answer is easy enough. Think about yourself when socializing on Facebook. If you are one of the frequent posters, what do you actually post? Based on my own actions I generally post pictures of trips, get-togethers with friends, oversea stays, and once in a while recent events like the finishing of a three-day cookie baking marathon or the heap of papers accumulating on my desk while studying. Many of us also frequently update their current status, telling others what they are doing, where they are at, and what they feel like right now. We usually publish positive experiences and pictures and that is what others see about us, and what we see when looking at other profiles.

According to Daniel Rettig and the Utah Study, we create an image about ourselves on Facebook that we want to be acknowledged for. If we want to be seen as the class clown, we post pictures of us dressed up funnily or playing jokes on others, if we want to be seen as the social and caring person, we show others what we did during our volunteering year in Africa or Costa Rica.

What We Want Others To See
Of course, this includes a lot of generalizing but if you look at if from the big picture you know that this is more or less true. What we want is to be liked by others and this we will not spoil by showing that we are overly pessimistic, fight a lot with our families or sitting around alone at home all day long. We want to appear active, outgoing and fun.
“If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.”

The Problem
The thing is, that we are not the only ones who are pursuing this kind of image. When skimming through the party pictures, vacation trips and recent acquisitions of others we most certainly feel a little sting of jealousy. Don’t you ask yourself once in a while why the “friend” you got to know last summer in Spain is now travelling around Mexico enjoying the sun and having fun with others is not you? And how does it feel if you see your secret crush hanging out with other girls or even seeing the update “XY is now in a relationship with..”?

That doesn’t feel too good, does it? What the Stanford study found out here is that we tend to “underestimate negative emotions and overestimate positive emotions”. There still only exists a “like-button” and the untagging of pictures that don’t show yourself at your best is as easy as falling off a log.

Suggestions To Create More Positive Emotions
My advice to you is simple: Don’t let your virtual life overrun your real life. Keep thinking of what I just told you and that others are not most certainly better of than you are but that this a only the image everyone likes to convey about themselves.

What the studies showed is that the more time the individual spent on Facebook and the more friends he had (incl. friends he did not know in real life) the more he was of the opinion that others were better off than him.

So once in a while think about how much time you want to invest in Facebook, envying your friends’ great events and whom you add on Facebook. You don’t have to be friends with everybody including people you hardly know. To get rid of some of your “friends” once in a while does have some positive effects, as I can tell from personal experience.

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Saskia!
    I’ve never thought of Facebook in particular making anybody unhappy before, but in the way you described it I can really see why. It was easy and enjoyable to read and you used the Toyota A3 model very well.

  2. Elisa S.

     /  February 12, 2012

    Hi Saskia,
    really enjoyed reading your well-written and informative post – I think you did a great job in applying the A3 model, you did a really good research and therefore succeeded in providing a profound and comprehensive investigation of that topic.
    We already discussed the whole Facebook makes you sad-thing last week and just as Caroline said, I never thought about it before – but now, after reading your post it came again into my mind. Although I can understand it to a certain point I must admit that I think that it depends on everybody to decide how much “life” to spend in the virtual, especially Facebook world – and I totally agree with you, real life should of course be always more important. I think we should use Facebook to talk and to stay in touch with friends, especially with those you cannot see in your real life, maybe because they are far away. If you keep that in mind Facebook won’t make you sad. When I read your post a picture a saw a while ago came into my mind – I think it is very fitting to this topic:

  3. Saskia R.

     /  February 13, 2012

    Dear Elli,
    that is a really awesome picture. It fits right into my post. Thank you for that addition to my post!

  4. Hey Saskia, really interesting post which is not concerned about Facebook harming us by collecting our data but which emotions Facebook might trigger in us.
    Your writing is nice to read and I like the way you use studies by universities to back your arguments. The structure is a nice variation of the Toyota Model and fits your argumentation perfectly.

    Something on the status updates that are most frequently done by my Facebook friends: they either post about how great life is or how bad it is. The first to collect “likes” and the letter to get some sympathy in a not-so-great situation, thus to feel better.
    I wrote my last blog post about Facebook filing IPO and how M: Zuckerberg got us addicted and found a really great video parody of “The Social Network II”( It basically shows a world were Facebook is deleted and the users cannot take it to not be able to share their pictures, collects likes and stalk others. It is a crazy and exaggerated image of how we are acting on Facebook, but I guess it has a lot of truth to it.

  5. What a great post, thank you so much. This is going to be useful for my online identity research (more here).


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