In my posts on unhappiness last week I talked about how relative comparisons with our peers can lead to unhappiness. I saw an interesting example of that dynamic this week over at Slate.
In her piece The Anti-Social Network Libby Copeland reviews a recent study published psychologist Alex Jordan and others in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The study examined how we tend to unfavorably compare our lives to others and how Facebook exacerbates these comparisions. From Copeland's article:
...the researchers found that their subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were–and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result. Jordan got the idea for the inquiry after observing his friends' reactions to Facebook: He noticed that they seemed to feel particularly crummy about themselves after logging onto the site and scrolling through others' attractive photos, accomplished bios, and chipper status updates. "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life," he told me.The whole article is worth a read.
The human habit of overestimating other people's happiness is nothing new, of course. Jordan points to a quote by Montesquieu: "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." But social networking may be making this tendency worse. Jordan's research doesn't look at Facebook explicitly, but if his conclusions are correct, it follows that the site would have a special power to make us sadder and lonelier. By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people's lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles' heel of human nature...