If you’re an avid user of social networks, you may be one of millions who populated their feeds last week with beach photos, destination tweets, and holiday raves — a chronicle of your fun in the sun, so to speak. ‘Life is great’, you post, but do you know that doing so may have actually made someone, somewhere feel crummy and miserable? A Stanford study tells us why.

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The Problem with Ambient Awareness

It’s an innocent enough thing that we do. Given the ease that social networks had allowed us to share whatever is happening in our lives – where we are, what we’re eating, what we’re enjoying – we post,tweet, or check-in away our lives at every opportunity. Social scientists had dubbed the phenomenon as a form of ambient awareness, allowing people to live vicariously live through others’ posts.

But it is this vicarious living that may make people miserable. In a recent Stanford study, Alex Jordan and his colleagues found out that there is a tendency for college students to underestimate the impact of other people’s negative experiences and consequently overestimate other people’s positive experiences. Simply said, people erroneously think that other people are more happy than they would really are.

Another thing that they found was that the lower people underestimate the frequency of negative events in other people’s lives, the higher the probability that they are lonely and unsatisfied about their own lives. It then seems that these people are more prone to feel that they are ‘missing out’ on their lives.

Now imagine this happening in the context of social networks. With the flurry of activity that people posts on their own feeds, it may seem that these people have very active lifestyles punctuated with lots of very positive moments. (How many times have you seen a negative post in your feed, right?) With the frequency of posts streaming over our own networks, we may erroneously think that these feeds show a complete and accurate snapshot of other people’s lives. Add to the fact that these streams are almost endless in their updates and you might have a recipe for depression given some people. “Others’ lives just seem more exciting than mine”, as one may think.

A Sad Staycation?

This got me to thinking if this phenomenon was more prevalent last week. For those who are uninitiated, our predominantly Christian country observes Lent which celebrates Jesus Christ’s road to resurrection. It’s also a contemporary tradition for families to go to their preferred holiday destinations during this time given that it’s an opportunity for some R&R.

With this study in mind, I’m thinking that last week might be especially depressing for some people who didn’t really go out to ‘celebrate’ the Holy Week. Never mind if it’s still at time to relax and that it’s still a week-long holiday, the fact that they stayed wherever they are might have made them a little envious of other people who are posting away on their feeds. Maybe, just maybe, Facebook had made other people more miserable than usual last week.

I’m unsure though if this is true because at this point because it’s just mere conjecture from an American psychological study. If you’re a Filipino staycationer who is active in social networks and was very much happy where you were last week, maybe you could share your thoughts about this post. I’d love it if you hit the comments after this.

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