In Mark Zuckerberg's end of year Facebook message, he showed determined optimism by describing new service improvements in light of intense pressure from privacy scandals and data protection issues.

"We've fundamentally altered our DNA to focus more on preventing harm in all our services, and we've systematically shifted a large portion of our company to work on preventing harm," read the message. 

But what really caught my attention was his focus on "preventing harm" to the well-being of millions of its users. 

Facebook research reveals new findings on happiness

While the media has butchered Zuckerberg's post as "tone-deaf" and lambasted him for conveniently ignoring ongoing problems around privacy, I was more intrigued by the link between how we consume Facebook to how it affects our personal well-being.

Zuckberg brought in social psychologists and tasked his own internal research team to review some of the top scientific findings to find answers to questions like: Should we worry about our kids' screen time? What will "connection" really mean in 15 years? 

It was found that how you use social media, including Facebook, to interact with others can either lead to greater well-being, happiness, and health, or it can lead to you feeling mentally worse afterward.

The difference is in the experience. Here's what to do and not to do when surfing Facebook (or social media).

What to do

The research found that when you actively connect and interact with close friends, classmates, relatives, and colleagues--the way Facebook was intended to be used in the first place--the experience is linked to improvements in well-being and social support, as well as depression and loneliness. 

"Staying in touch with these friends and loved one brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community," writes David Ginsberg, director of research at Facebook, in his report.

The positive effects of connecting through sending or receiving more messages, comments and Timeline posts "were even stronger when people talked with their close friends online."

In others words, bombarding your feed with status updates alone is only part of the equation. To get the full positive benefit, interacting one-on-one with others in your network is crucial for boosting well-being.

In one experiment, stressed out students at Cornell were tasked with randomly scrolling through their own Facebook profiles for five minutes--reminiscing on past meaningful interactions, viewing comments and tagged photos that close friends and loved ones had left. As a result, students "experienced boosts in self-affirmation compared to students who looked at a stranger's Facebook profile."

What not to do

The research revealed that when people "spend a lot of time passively consuming information -- reading but not interacting with people -- they report feeling worse afterward." 

For example, in one experiment at the University of Michigan, students scrolled Facebook for 10 minutes without any meaningful connection. In turn, they "were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook," the research revealed.

To encourage more meaningful social interactions rather than passive consumption, Zuckerberg said, "One change we made reduced the amount of viral videos people watched by 50 million hours a day."

Conclusion

Having more meaningful interactions with your friends and family should increase your happiness levels. The report also noted that doing so will enhance your relationships offline, not detract from them. This is important since "a person's health and happiness relies heavily on the strength of their relationships."

Published on: Jan 17, 2019
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