Getting a 'like' on Facebook won't make you happy, says Wash U psychologist | St. Louis Public Radio

Getting a 'like' on Facebook won't make you happy, says Wash U psychologist

Mar 5, 2018

Are we as happy as we appear to be on social media?

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh explored that question and others in conversation with Tim Bono, a faculty member at Washington University. The psychologist’s new book “When Likes Aren’t Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness” draws on scores of happiness-related studies conducted with college students and other adults throughout the world.

Bono has spent much of his career researching the science behind happiness, particularly among young adults, and his findings suggest that a sense of well-being has proven especially elusive in recent years.

“If you start looking at [Pew Research data] around the ’90s, what you find is that happiness among young adults was increasing pretty steadily through the ’90s, through the early 2000s,” Bono told Marsh, “and then 2010 happened, and every chart sees this dramatic, precipitous drop in happiness.”

That was the same year that smartphones became “almost ubiquitous” among young adults, Bono said, and rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness suddenly started to shoot up in 2010 as well.

And while Bono has found that a strong social network contributes greatly to an individual’s sense of happiness, he was quick to distinguish deep, genuine connections from so much of what occurs online.

“There’s not the [same] momentum that can be built when you’re having an actual conversation with another person,” Bono said of online networks, adding that they tend to primarily foster “social comparison” that actually diminishes well-being.

“Social media’s not only unproductive but counterproductive when it comes to our happiness,” he said.

But the conversation didn’t stop there, nor does Bono’s book, which offers not just a diagnosis of what’s gone wrong but various ideas for establishing personal habits that have been shown to foster greater happiness.

“It’s essentially providing a narrative based on how my own students over the years have taken that research and incorporated that research into their own personal lives,” Bono said of his book.

Those strategies and solutions include attention training, meditation, practicing gratitude, building resilience, expecting and learning from failure, and dealing with disappointment.

“You don’t get a very good sense of how happy [people] are by looking at how much money they have in the bank or the size of their house or other external characteristics of their lives,” Bono said. “A much stronger predictor of happiness is their own appraisal of the circumstances – the extent to which they express gratitude for what they have, the extent to which they are incorporating exercise or meditation or gratitude into their daily habits.”

Also useful according to Bono? Naps – particularly of the 20- and 90-minute variety.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.