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

Tip #5: Use Facebook to Maintain Your Social Capital

In a 2007 study (I know, a million years ago in these days of social media, but the findings are still relevant), researchers found that heavier use of Facebook was associated with three different kinds of social capital.  

Now, to back up, social capital is what you get out of your relationships--the resources you can access through your network of friends, family, and colleagues. The study focused on bridging capital, or your acquaintances and friends of friends, better known as “weak ties;" bonding capital, the close, emotionally supportive friends, better known as “strong ties;" and maintained capital, which is the ability to maintain valuable connections as your life (and geographic location) changes.  

Individuals who used Facebook had greater social capital in all three areas, meaning they were more likely to endorse being able to turn to someone for help with an important decision or a loan, being able to count on someone from a previous town to do them a small favor, and feeling like part of a larger community. Applied to real life, such capital may have implications for finding a job, or feeling supported in a time of stress.

Tip #6: Know that You Can Generally Trust a Facebook Profile

Facebook is fundamentally about keeping in touch with people you know, but the format---a profile you create, photos you decide to post, and status updates you write--forces you to curate your own image. You get to create how you want to be seen, and you get to see how others react, in real time, to this image.

However, even with all the posturing and image-making, a 2010 study found that Facebook profiles do reflect people’s actual characteristics and personalities, not idealized fantasies.

Researchers asked to see profiles of college-aged Facebook users, and then asked four of their good friends to fill out a personality questionnaire about them. Then they had each Facebook user fill out an ideal personality profile, directing them to “describe yourself as you ideally would like to be.” Turns out the Facebook profiles more closely matched the friends’ description of the real person, than the users’ idealized description.

The conclusion?  People post their real identity, even in the virtual world. Therefore, you can keep it real--and rest assured that your friends probably are, too.

Bonus: How Many Facebook Friends Should You Have?  

To be able to successfully maintain relationships, as well as to maximize what’s called social attractiveness, according to a 2008 study, the magic number of Facebook friends falls somewhere between 100 and 300. Above 300 friends, your credibility is questioned and doubts are raised about your true popularity and desirability. Gratuitious friending is suspected.

So rest assured that even with all the news about Facebook-induced greed, sloth, envy, and other various idolatries-of-self, know that while Facebook probably isn’t redemptive, at least you can feel good about posting those pictures of your kid’s lemonade stand, or news about your latest promotion.

And one last thing: for the betterment of humanity, just say no to duckface selfies.


Back, M.D., Stopfer, J.M., Vazire, S., Gaddis, S., Schmukle, S.C. et al. (2010).  Facebook profiles reflect actual personality, not self-idealization.  Psychological Science, 21, 372-4.

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C. & Lampe, C. (2007), The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12, 1143–1168.

Kramer, A. D. I., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 8788-8790.

ScienceDaily. "Facebook makes users feel envious, dissatisfied: German study reveals social network's big role in users' emotional life." ScienceDaily, 21 January 2013.

Tong, S. T., Van Der Heide, B., Langwell, L. and Walther, J. B. (2008), Too Much of a Good Thing? The Relationship Between Number of Friends and Interpersonal Impressions on Facebook. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13, 531–549.

Wilcox, K. & Stephen, A.T..  (2012).  Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control Journal of Consumer Research,  Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 12-57;

Photo of social media terms, like button, and Facebook on tablet courtesy of Shutterstock.


Medical Disclaimer
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 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. 

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