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Yes, Facebook is Making You Sad

Stop comparing your life to flattering photos and carefully-crafted status updates

(GARO/phanie/Phanie Sarl/Corbis )
smithsonian.com

The more time you spend on Facebook, the more time you spend comparing yourself to everyone you went to high school with. And college. And were friends with for 8 weeks in that improv class. And met at a bar that one time.

That's the reason Facebook makes you feel blue, according to a recent paper titled "Seeing Everyone Else's Highlight Reels," reports New York's Science of Us. Calculating how you measured up to everyone else in the cafeteria wasn't good for your self-esteem when you were 16 and isn't good for your self-esteem now (even if the cafeteria is now a virtual feed)>

Even if you come to the conclusion that your highlight reel is better than that of your friends and random acquaintances, you won't feel great, the researchers found. "Interestingly, even positive comparisons with others — that is, 'Wow, I am doing way better than Phil' — seemed to be correlated with depressive symptoms," writes Jesse Singal. "The researchers wrote that while this may seem surprising, it’s actually in line with past findings showing that all social comparisons are correlated with depressive symptoms."

So, what can you do?

Spend less time peering into the social-interaction abyss, for starters. There are apps to track how many hours of your life you spend on any given website and apps that block you from using the internet altogether.

You don't have to delete your account, though. Maybe just be more conscious of how you use it. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that when people use Facebook for social interaction—rather than just passively scrolling through their news feed—their sense of loneliness decreased, explains the New Yorker. Next time you feel jealous looking at your co-worker's vacation photos, try hitting the "like" button.

About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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