It's always nice to catch up with friends over Christmas and find out what everyone has been up to, but obsessively following other people's festive activities on Facebook is more likely to bring jealousy than joy.
A study into Facebook's effects on mental well-being by the University of Copenhagen found that regularly logging into the website lowered mood and had a negative impact on users' feelings of self-satisfaction. This is because Facebook tends to depict a one-dimensional view of other people's lives that generally highlights happy or exciting moments. This causes "unrealistic social comparison", leading to feelings of envy and decreased life satisfaction, the study revealed.
In an experiment with nearly 1,100 Facebook users, researchers found that 20 minutes of 'active' Facebook use – defined as posting photos and status updates and commenting on other people's posts – led to an "immediate deterioration" of mood. 'Passive' users who browsed through other people's photos and news feeds for 10 minutes also experienced lower mood, although this appeared to manifest "over time" as opposed to immediately after logging off of Facebook and was less severe than the depressive symptoms felt by more intense users.
According to the study, checking in on Facebook regularly made participants feel like that hadn't done anything meaningful with their time. Despite this, users kept returning to the website because they wrongly believed that social media would make them feel better about themselves.
"The users make affective forecasting errors when logging in to Facebook expecting the network to bring them positive feelings when, in fact, the opposite happens," the study said. The results found that users' life satisfaction increased "significantly" after a week of quitting Facebook and appear to back up previous studies concluding that Facebook can cause depressive symptoms.
"Taking a break from Facebook has positive effects on the two dimensions of well-being: our life satisfaction increases and our emotions become more positive," the authors wrote. "Furthermore, it was demonstrated that these effects were significantly greater for heavy Facebook users, passive Facebook users, and users who tend to envy others on Facebook."
The advice, then, is to log off for a few days over the festive season and focus on how you can make the best of your time, not fretting over how your friends might be spending theirs. Happy holidays.