Something has been bothering me lately.
Over the summer, I read an article in The Economist about a study published by the Public Library of Science that shows that the more someone uses Facebook, the less happy he or she is.
How can this possibly be?
Everyone on Facebook looks so excited, beautiful, active and alive. All of my “close” friends’ albums are brimming with photos of amazing vacations, rocking parties and adorable babies. These “dear” companions of mine keep me constantly updated with the unbelievable meal they just consumed, the new promotion they just received and their toned physiques. As far as I can see, there isn’t a hint of unhappiness on the perfectly curated walls of this global version of show-and-tell.
That’s just the thing. Facebook isn’t real. It’s fantasy. Your fantasy. My fantasy. Our fantasy.
The study I mentioned earlier clearly showed that those who increased their usage of Facebook felt less satisfied with their own lives. In short, they felt envious of the lives of others and less content with the lives they were leading in comparison. On the flipside, those who increased their amount of direct social contact felt more positively about their lives.
Why is this the case?
Well, when we stand face to face with one another (without a staged backdrop complete with Camera+ effects that not only make us look flawless, but also like we are starring in some old-timey hipster movie), we get to see each other as we actually are. We can no longer hide behind our screens, editing and re-editing our responses, disengaging when we don’t have anything cool to say and voyeuristically judging others who can’t seem to get it right.
And surprisingly enough, I think this makes us feel better about ourselves – not just because we aren’t comparing our realities to the fantasies of Facebook, but because we get to be honest about what God is doing in our lives, not what we are choosing to put forward. The good, the sad and the ugly. And that kind of authentic freedom will always feel better than manufactured perfection.
Such authenticity reminds me of the psalms.
I say to God, my rock,
‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?’
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
Look, I’m not saying we should all quit Facebook. I’m saying we should do it better. Do it more honestly. Do it less frequently. Do it in ways that honor our God-given realities. Do it in order to move conversations forward and not agendas. The less we are afraid or ashamed of our realities, the more aware we can be of how God is using us in big ways and small.
As my favorite philosopher, Louis C.K., said to my favorite sociologist, Conan O’Brien, “Sadness is poetic. You are lucky to live sad moments…”
I couldn’t agree more.
Charlene Han Powell is currently the Associate Pastor for Christian Education at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. She oversees Adult Education, Young Adult Ministries, and Family Ministries at this historic Manhattan church.