Lee Farquhar, Butler University – Happiness, Life Satisfaction, and Comparing Oneself to Others on Facebook

Social media matters in our happiness, whether we like it or not.

Lee Farquhar, associate professor of entertainment media and journalism at Butler University, explores why.

Dr. Lee Farquhar is an associate professor of Journalism and Sports Media. Prior to arriving at Butler, he worked for eight years at Samford University, teaching broadcast news and sports media courses. His professional experience is primarily in radio and television broadcasting. He has also worked as a freelance videographer, shooting video for Kansas State University and MTV. His research combines social media and social psychological theories. He current research focuses on social media use, parenting styles, and parent-child value congruence.

Happiness, Life Satisfaction, and Comparing Oneself to Others on Facebook


This study examined Facebook’s connection to happiness and life satisfaction through the lens of social comparison theory. Generally, research indicates negative outcomes from heavy use of social media… such as lower self-esteem and increased loneliness… and our own pervious research has indicated these outcomes. However, for this study, we saw an uptick in participants’ happiness and life satisfaction based on how they compare themselves to others on Facebook.

The premise of comparison theory is that we constantly observe the world to see how we fit it, and social media is particularly suited for observing others.

In the study, we looked at social comparisons in general and comparisons on facebook specifically, and we found a predictive relationship between social comparisons and happiness, and also a predictive relationship between facebook-specific comparisons and life satisfaction.

How we interpret those findings is that, for some, certain types of Facebook actions lead to a bump… though likely only temporary… in happiness and life satisfaction. Going a little deeper into social comparison theory, we see this as potential support for downward social comparison. That is, participants who say the increased happiness and life satisfaction were getting the social comparison bump by looking at others who had it worse than themselves. Feeling bad about your job? You can always find someone on facebook who has it worse than you. Feeling bad about your relationship? Facebook surely has someone who has it worse than you. I should warn that for most people, however, I would not simply prescribe increasing time spent on facebook looking down on others. It’s very unlikely to work that way for everyone. Again, sheer time spent on facebook predicted lower self-esteem in this and other studies.



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