Social Media. (Contributed)

Social Media. (Contributed)

UBCO study says it’s not if, but how people use social media that impacts their happiness

“We need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness”

The way you use social media may just be affecting your happiness, according to a new study by UBC Okanagan.

Derrick Wirtz, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, took a close look at how people use three major social platforms—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and how that use can impact a person’s overall well-being.

“Social network sites are an integral part of everyday life for many people around the world,” said Wirtz. “Every day, billions of people interact with social media. Yet the widespread use of social network sites stands in sharp contrast to a comparatively small body of research on how this use impacts a person’s happiness.”

Even before social isolation became the norm amid COVID-19, Wirtz said social media has transformed how we interact with others. Face-to-face, in-person contact is now matched or exceeded by online social interactions as the primary way people connect. While most people gain happiness from interacting with others face-to-face, Wirtz notes that some come away from using social media with a feeling of negativity—for a variety of different reasons.

One issue is social comparison. Participants in Wirtz’s study said the more they compared themselves to others while using social media, the less happy they felt.

“Viewing images and updates that selectively portray others positively may lead social media users to underestimate how much others actually experience negative emotions and lead people to conclude that their own life—with its mix of positive and negative feelings—is, by comparison, not as good,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. Supreme Court to decide if human rights complaint against UBC Okanagan stands

Wirtz notes that viewing other people’s posts and images while not interacting with them lends itself to comparison without the mood-boosting benefits that ordinarily follow social contact, undermining well-being and reducing self-esteem. “Passive use, scrolling through others’ posts and updates, involves little person-to-person reciprocal interaction while providing ample opportunity for upward comparison.”

As part of his research, study participants were asked about four specific functions of Facebook—checking a news feed, messaging, catching up on world news and posting status or picture updates. The most frequently used function was passively checking one’s news feed. Participants primarily used Facebook without directly connecting with other users, and the negative effects on subjective well-being were consistent with this form of use.

During COVID-19, Wirtz notes people naturally turn to social media to reduce feelings of social isolation. Yet, his research (conducted before the pandemic) found that although people used social media more when they were lonely, time spent on social media only increased feelings of loneliness for participants in the study. “Today, the necessity of seeing and hearing friends and family only through social media due to COVID-19 might serve as a reminder of missed opportunities to spend time together.”

The more people used any of these three social media sites, the more negative they reported feeling afterward. “The three social network sites examined—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—yielded remarkably convergent findings,” he said. “The more respondents had recently used these sites, either in aggregate or individually, the more negative effect they reported when they responded to our randomly-timed surveys over a 10-day period.”

Wirtz’s study also included offline interactions with others, either face-to-face or a phone call. Comparing both offline communication with online, he was able to demonstrate that offline social interaction had precisely the opposite effect of using social media, strongly enhancing emotional well-being.

But all is not lost, Wirtz says, as this research also reveals how people can use social media positively, something more important than ever during COVID-19. He suggests people avoid passively scrolling and resist comparing themselves to other social media users. He also says people should use social media sites to enable direct interactions and social connectedness—for example, talking online synchronously or arranging time spent with others in-person, when possible and with proper precautions.

“If we all remember to do that, the negative impact of social media use could be reduced—and social networks sites could even have the potential to improve our well-being and happiness,” he adds. “In other words, we need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness.”

Wirtz’s study was recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

READ MORE: 36 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health since Friday


Daniel Taylor
Reporter, Kelowna Capital News
Email me at daniel.taylor@kelownacapnews.com
Follow me on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Kelowna fire crews quickly knock down blaze inside home

The fire was reported around 9:30 p.m. inside a suite attached large home

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News file)
Update: Glenmore Rd reopens after ‘serious’ high-speed collision

Collision occured at 2910 Glenmore Road North, at approx. 2:30 p.m.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

Cantina closed due to COVID. Instagram.
Cantina Kelowna closes due to COVID-19 case

The restaurant will be closed until Dec. 10

(Google Maps)
Update: COVID-19 case confirmed at CNB Middle School

Two exposures at Kelowna schools have been confirmed today, Nov. 27

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks along the seawall in North Vancouver Wednesday, November 25, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
911 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths as B.C. sees deadliest week since pandemic began

Hospitalizations reach more than 300 across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Summerland residents have been receiving a telephone scam with the number showing as the telephone number of the local RCMP detachment. (Black Press Media files)
Summerland RCMP telephone number spoofed in scam calls

Number used in scam attempts from tax agency

(Village of Lumby photo)
Mysterious, loud ‘boom’ shakes North Okanagan residents

Village staff, Earthquakes Canada aren’t sure what caused the explosion-like sound

Clarence Fulton students collect cash and non-perishable food donations for families in need in their community Friday, Nov. 27. (Jennifer Smith  - Morning Star)
North Okanagan students collect food for families in need

Annual event to support nine school families this year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Take a break from the slopes to discover the rich culture and diversity of Vernon. Michelle Beaudry photo, courtesy Tourism Vernon.
Tourism Vernon could see 40% cut to budget due to COVID-19

New approach to help residents and visitors activate their adventures

Follow public health recommendations, says Interior Health as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Revelstoke. (Image courtesy CDC)
Revelstoke positive COVID cases grows to 29

Interior Health announced a cluster in the community on Nov. 26

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Most Read