How Social Media Can Add to Your Well-Being (Not Detract From It)

Social media

Social media use can be harmful. The effects are troubling and well-documented, from tragic stories of adolescent life lost to academic research on the psychological harm such platforms can cause, including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

Yet with 59% of the whole world using social media, for an average of two and a half hours per day, according to a 2022 Broadband search, it has also become inextricable from the daily lives and livelihoods of many. It is not sufficient to say social media is bad, don’t use it. We need a more proactive approach. The question often missing from the discussion is: How can social media use be optimized to enhance our well-being and flourishing?

What is social media for?

To begin, let’s clarify what social media is, and what it is not. In a 2010 paper, European researchers Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein define social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that . . . allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content,” in virtual communities. Social media includes platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, and Pinterest. Pure messaging services such as WhatsApp do not meet these criteria and are not considered to be social media. It is this within-platform content-creation functionality that makes social media a unique, and still relatively novel, form of human interaction.

Social media platforms have been designed with profits in mind, rather than users’ well-being. To optimize our use of social media, we need to understand the significant psychological and well-being factors at play online. Only then can we retain well-being and flourish, regardless of whether social media has been designed to prioritize it.

Flourishing on social media: social capital, identity, and mastery

However, typical social media advice does not take a structured psychology-based approach to well-being. In the largest systematic review of positive social media usage outcomes to date, I trawled with colleagues through the research to see how social media use interacts with well-being. The upshot? It is possible to create a positive spiral in social media usage, where usage supports flourishing; but this requires intentionality and cannot be communicated in a few quick tips. This is because social media affects us all differently, depending on age, gender, personality, and many other factors.

I’d like to offer a roadmap for taking a proactive and tailored approach to social media engagement and well-being. We conducted our research across age brackets, countries, and other demographics, using a positive psychology lens. Whether you are an adult wishing to use social media as part of your career development, or an adolescent for whom social media is hard to opt out of, the aim of the recommendations below is to empower you in your social media use today, rather than wait for slow or uncertain policy change.

So, what does it look like to flourish on social media? Our research, drawing on established positive psychology flourishing frameworks, breaks it down into two broad domains:

Social capital and social support: Is social media helping to support you when you’re stressed? Are you building reciprocal relationships with other individuals through your social networks, though both weak and strong ties? If you feel like the answers to those questions are yes, you’re on the right track toward flourishing online. Studies have found that this is completely possible: For example, German Neubaum and his colleagues found in a 2014 paper that social media produces short-term positive emotions and offers social support through rapid emotional relief after crises. Two larger systematic reviews, one focused on breast cancer patients and another examining general social support, found that social media use can increase social connectedness and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Identity and mastery: Are you using social media in a way that allows you to express yourself and develop a sense of identity? Are you using it to learn new skills or improve existing ones? If so, you are on the path to flourishing. Research has found that using social media to express oneself can lead to greater self-esteem, and that learning through social media can lead to increased feelings of mastery and competence.

In addition to these broad domains, there are several specific strategies that can help individuals optimize their social media use for well-being:

  • Curate your social media feeds: Pay attention to the accounts you follow and the content you consume. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or your life, and seek out accounts that inspire and uplift you.
  • Engage in active, rather than passive, social media use: Instead of mindlessly scrolling through your feeds, actively engage with others by commenting on posts, sharing your own content, and participating in online communities.
  • Set boundaries: Establish limits on your social media use to prevent it from taking over your life. This may involve setting specific times of day for checking social media or taking breaks from it altogether.
  • Use social media to connect with others: Instead of using social media as a substitute for real-life interactions, use it as a tool for staying in touch with friends and family who live far away or for connecting with new people who share your interests.
  • Practice digital detoxes: Take regular breaks from social media to allow yourself time to recharge and focus on other aspects of your life.

In conclusion, social media can be a double-edged sword when it comes to well-being. While it can contribute to negative outcomes like anxiety and depression, it can also be a powerful tool for building social capital, expressing oneself, and learning new skills. By being intentional about our social media use and following strategies like curating our feeds and setting boundaries, we can optimize our social media engagement for well-being and flourishing.

#buttons=(Accept !) #days=(20)

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. Learn More
Accept !