January is my birth month and with the gift of Facebook, I find more and more people who are also born in January. What a joy to know that I share the same birth month with famous people such as Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr., Michelle Obama, Kevin Costner, Steve Harvey, and Benjamin Franklin. A birthday in the Facebook world is grand event! Because reminders are sent out well in advance, the day before, the day of, and several days after your birthday, people from all over the country and some internationally take the time to wish you a “Happy Birthday” in a variety of ways. You may get pictures of cakes, flowers, pictures of yourself with others and grand tributes. After having a FB birthday, one is often overwhelmed and feels special and loved.
I have a confession to make. When I first signed up for FB many years ago, I really didn’t trust the social media world. At the time FB was used by more college students than my fellow friends, family and classmates or fellow baby boomers. As a result, I did not list my real birthday but selected a day several days before.
What’s really funny is that I always forget what day I have listed on FB and wake up that morning up and wonder what in the world has happened. It never fails, the alerts will start early in the morning. Typically we are on our anniversary vacation and may be out of the country which can be really alarming when you look on FB and see you have several tags and 50 or more people have already posted on your timeline before breakfast. I also get a call or a text from someone telling me that my FB birthday is wrong.
When the actual day comes around, there is even more confusion because others are thinking to themselves, I know I just wrote on her timeline a few days ago. My husband laughs at me and says “you need to fix that.” I think I tried to fix it once but couldn’t figure out how. Once I started explaining my wrong birthday to people, I discovered that I am not alone. There are other people who have a different FB birthday. Regardless of the day I am celebrated on social media by my electronic friends I am grateful for the attention I receive. Thanks FB friends and sorry for confusing you.
Speaking of Facebook, I was reading a book by author Ruth Whippman, entitled: America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks. In her book she has a chapter entitled: I’m Not a Happy Person, I just Play One on Facebook. In the chapter she discusses the behavior and thoughts of the 1.6 billion users who share over 30 million content posts monthly. Whether we know it or not much research has been done about whether or not social media contributes to our happiness or has the opposite effect of contributing to our unhappiness. It turns out that social media has created a whole new type stress which she calls “happiness anxiety”.
The more searching I did, more evidence appeared citing something call “the social comparison theory”. A study done by psychologists at the University of Michigan in 2013 asked the very question of whether or not FB makes people happier from moment to moment or increases their overall life satisfaction. The results of their study with college students who were instructed to use FB over a two week period found that FB overall lowered their moment to moment happiness and their overall life satisfaction. Why?
Turns out that FB has become a place where people must put their best foot forward. Most posts are equivalent to a self-advertising agency. Typically posts are related to positive activity going on in one’s life such a promotion, a performance, vacations, children’s accomplishments, engagements, weddings, graduations, awards, family events such as birthdays and anniversaries, our attendance at something spectacular. Some posts are for charity or our view on social justice or worldwide events and when we feel like we have something important to say.
While perusing the various articles on the subject matter, I couldn’t help but think about some of my own posts which include our anniversary, our vacation, a birthday gift, my son’s wedding, my daughter’s graduation, my Christmas surprise and my weekly blog posts. I’m not much into selfies, but if I do post one, it’s because I am with someone I want to be seen with, or I’m at a special location or event.
So what is the social comparison theory? Basically, we determine our own self-worth by assessing how we stack up to others. Meg Jay, PhD wrote an article in Psychology Today entitled, “Just Say No to Facebook Social Comparisons: Why twentysomethings need to stop taking Facebook at face value. In her article she talks about how as humans it is natural for us to compare ourselves to others. According to Dr. Jay, “Social comparison theory tells us that, when left without obvious cues about our performance, we look to what others are doing to decide whether what we are doing is good enough.” Facebook makes it easy because we spend more time looking at other’s pages than we spend adding content to our own.
In another article in the New Yorker, entitled: How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy. Author Maria Konnikova, mentions “A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon which found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.”
Hmmm. What I get out of the lesson is that we like to use FB because of our ability to self-advertise and to connect with others and because FB helps us to feel a sense of connection to the world, yet when we spend our time passively looking at what others are doing, we feel disconnected. With one third of Americans receiving their news and info and current events on FB and hitting the like button more than 6 million times a day, we spend a lot of time just looking. Facebook has to get more creative to keep our attention so they find new ways to keep us looking, liking and sharing. How many chain posts, challenges and videos have you seen lately?
I couldn’t help but wonder if the Bible addresses anything similar to our Facebook behavior. I found two very relevant scriptures. In Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV) we are told to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” At the same time Galatians 5:25-26 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”
Need I say anything more? Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate our FB lives. Just saying…
Janice R Love, Author
First Lady, Mom, Stepmom and Divorce Ministry Coach