How to Get Happy by Using Facebook

News stories trumpet that social media makes us depressed, unproductive, and insecure. But little-known research shows a brighter side. This week, the Savvy Psychologist offers 6 ways to use Facebook strategically to feel good. Plus, we’ll answer every Facebook user’s secret question!

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #40

So there’s been a lot of coverage about how Facebook is addictive, makes us depressed, gives us eating disorders, makes us antisocial, and generally turns us in to self-hating losers.

But with 700 billion minutes worldwide per month spent on Facebook alone, people must be getting something out of it! I combed through the lesser-known research to find how to get the most out of Facebook, and use it to enhance your life. So to that end, here are 6 tips on how to use Facebook to make you happy:

Tip #1: Participate

Don’t hang out on Facebook just to look at your News Feed or other people’s profiles. Instead, only go there when you have some news to share.

A 2013 study found that Facebook frequenters who spent time on the site without posting their own content were more likely to feel envious and dissatisfied with their own lives. The biggest culprit of envy?  Your friends’ vacation photos--I guess those obnoxious “beach feet” selfies aren’t good for anyone..

Tip #2: Share Good News

Everyone knows that people selectively filter their lives when they post. Parties, baby’s first step, anniversaries, and beautiful weekends at that B&B in Sonoma all make the cut. No one posts that creditors are calling, or that they’re hungover on a Tuesday.  

But the effect of posting positive information is that you get positive feedback, which is not only reinforcing, but--according to a 2012 study out of Columbia University--also boosts Facebook users’ self-esteem. So post good news, with the caveat of Tip #3...

Tip #3: Weed Out Those “Friends” You’ve Only Met Once

That self-esteem boost only works if you have strong ties to your Facebook friends. The same study found if your news feed is filled with pictures of people you don’t recognize, much less care about, you won’t feel the benefits. So consider culling those folks on your friend list you don’t even remember meeting.

Tip #4: Know That Happiness is Contagious

This finding comes from the now-infamous social experiment Facebook secretly carried out in January 2012. 

It turns out that Facebook data scientists were paying attention to all the talk about Facebook making people miserable, and they were worried it would lead to people leaving the site. So for a week that January, nearly 700,000 Facebook users’ accounts were manipulated to either reduce the number of positive posts, like “Had a great day with great friends!,”  or negative posts, like “Bumming that my cat is sick,” that appeared in their News Feeds.

The findings, published in the journal PNAS this year, found that when positive posts were omitted from the News Feed, people produced not only fewer positive posts of their own, but also more negative posts. Likewise, when negative posts were suppressed, people followed suit, making fewer negative posts of their own, and more positive posts. The conclusion? Evidence for emotional contagion on a massive scale.

Users and ethicists gave a big “dislike” to the fact that users weren’t informed this was happening (and seriously, with over 900 million users, you’d think Facebook could find enough people who would consent to be in a study!) Facebook later apologized for the clumsy way the experiment was carried out.

Regardless, the study showed that online, happiness is contagious--whether you’re conscious of it or not.  So contribute to your friends happiness by posting good stuff, “liking” generously, and writing positive comments. Karma works online, too.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.