With constant access to the lives of everyone at our fingertips – it’s pretty easy to feel dissatisfied or discouraged with our own. Though social media makes it easier to stay connected and caught up with those we love, research suggests that it may also be negatively affecting our self-esteem.
Recent studies have linked social media use among young adults to depression. Another study suggests that one of the primary culprits leading to depression is the constant comparison between our lives and the lives of others.
According to the Social Comparison Theory, we tend to measure our self-worth by comparing ourselves with the perceived self-worth of others. One study gives insight as to how our perception of others directly affects our own self-esteem and self-evaluation. Researchers found that showing participants profiles of people containing “upward comparison information” (high activity social network, healthy habits) had a negative effect on both self-esteem and self-evaluation when compared to when participants were shown a profile containing “downward comparison information” (a low activity social network, unhealthy habits). What’s problematic about this is that social media gives us a platform to curate ideal versions of ourselves, giving our friends/followers an unrealistic amount of upward comparison information that’s more likely to damage self-esteem.
Researchers at the Annenberg School of Communications in Pennsylvania found that when given the opportunity, we are more likely to share positive posts to “strengthen our social bonds and express ourselves in a positive way.” Though wanting to engage in positive conversations on social media is not inherently a bad thing, “liking” or re-sharing these posts serve to positively reinforce narratives that may or may not be accurate.
If you scroll through my Instagram you’ll notice that all of my pictures exude happiness; I’m either smiling, traveling, hanging with my fur babies and/or my fiancé, or showcasing my academic accomplishments. What you won’t find a trace of is my struggle with anxiety. A couple of years back I totaled my car and lost a friend in a car accident – all in the same year. This led to a two-year period of my life where even the thought of driving for more than ten minutes paralyzed me. I was embarrassed and depressed; I felt that sharing this with others would only make me seem weak and isolated. Studies show that both our fear of social exclusion and desire for social validation cause us to leave the more difficult and ambivalent parts of our lives out of the eyes of our peers.
After a visit to a psychologist, I took solace in her reminder that everyone (yes, everyone) has their own problems and without them, we can never truly know or enjoy the feeling of success, happiness, or accomplishment.
Next time you’re scrolling through your social media feed, keep in mind that the grass isn’t always greener. Embrace your emotions whatever they might be and acknowledge that living an abundant life entails being present in the low moments just as much as the high.