According to the 2015-2017 World Happiness Report, Canada is the seventh happiest out of 156 countries (Finland is number one). You’d think we’d be happy with that result, but I bet you’re really thinking: What’s Finland got that we don’t? At least half the Canadian population leans toward some form of perfectionism, says Dr. Gordon Flett, Canada Research Chair in Personality and Health, and that leads to comparison — and that leads to the feeling we’ve fallen short in some way. The implicit understanding, he says, is “If I’m perfect, I have a chance to be happy.”
And nowhere do we compare ourselves more than on social media.
“Social media is the bane of people’s happiness,” he says. (Don’t miss these 13 things psychologists wish you knew about happiness.) “We have a high need to socially compare, and social media forces comparison on us that we don’t necessarily want. We also have a tendency to believe how others describe themselves, which leads to false assessment — and sets us up for greater unhappiness. We need to remember that we’re not seeing the full picture — what we’re seeing on social media is just a ‘highlight reel.’”
Dr. Derrick Wirtz, a senior instructor at the University of British Columbia, is currently in the midst of the Enduring Happiness and Continued Self-Enhancement (ENHANCE) trial, which focuses on helping people make small, habitual changes in their daily lives, such as strengthening relationships by expressing appreciation to others so they can experience greater long-term well-being. He doesn’t think we should abandon social media altogether. (In fact, we may need to rethink our idea of what it means to be happy.)
“We might think other people’s lives are happier than ours when we see posts of only their positive moments,” he says. “And, yes, our own lives can seem less happy or exciting by comparison. But, on the other hand, social media can foster positive feelings when it’s used to build meaningful social relationships and direct contact with friends.” Next, learn about how social media is affecting your sleep.