Why Facebook Can Make You Happier.

Younger people don’t say this, but I’ve heard several people in an older age bracket make a similar argument recently: Facebook isn’t good for people’s happiness. “Instead of making plans and meeting face to face and doing things,” one guy told me, “everyone’s typing away in front of a screen, alone. It’s terrible for human relationships.”

I disagree. True, meeting face to face is more energizing, more fun, and strengthens ties better. But not using Facebook because it isn’t as good as meeting in person is an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

In my own experience, Facebook allows me to manage ties to a much larger group of people than I could possibly manage in a more direct way. It makes it practical to keep track of people through many changes of email, address, etc. It gives me a quick way to reach out to friends, and also a low-key way to connect with people whom I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling or even emailing. And I’m sure not going to write a letter!

Perfect example: This morning I had coffee with a friend, “Jane,” whom I hadn’t seen in many years. We met when, a year after college, I moved to San Francisco for ten months and lived with my college roommate, who was dating a guy who had a bunch of friends from college, including Jane — we all spent a lot of time together.

After I left San Francisco, I moved to New Haven, then to New York City, then to Washington, D.C., then back to New York. Jane moved from San Francisco to Cambridge, then to New York City, then to Kampala, then to Boston, then to Nairobi, then back to New York City.

I always liked Jane a lot, but she wasn’t one of my closest friends, and I lost track of her. (As she told me, “You lose five people with every move.”) Recently she found me on Facebook, and we re-connected — tremendously fun and big happiness booster. It turns out we live thirteen blocks from each other!

Everyone from ancient philosophers to contemporary researchers agrees that the KEY to happiness is strong ties to other people. We need need close, long-term relationships, we need to be able to confide in others, we need to belong, we need to give and receive support. Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.” If a mid-life crisis hits, one of the most common complaints is the lack of true friends.

Anything that helps you hang onto your friends is going to make you happier.

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Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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  • vicky

    They are not strong ties on facebook, I have reconnected with high school friends and it has been more of a disappointment than anything. When you “see” everybody on facebook all the time it makes it easy to just blow them off, it is rather like getting the same letter that was sent to 50 different people. I get a lot of “lets get together” that goes by the wayside, I’m sure the intentions are good. It is also very hurtful when you see friends/family have driven by and not stopped or had lunch just down the road and didn’t call. I realize people are busy but sometimes I would rather not know how physically close people were. I enjoy those far away much more than those right next door. There is a but too much information-sharing out there. I also feel facebook contributes to life comparisons too much, fine if you’re the one with the great life, not so fine if you’re the one with the not-so-great life.

  • Mairsydoats

    I am a big fan of keeping up with people on Facebook. But several things go into that. First, I am part of an acting community in a large metropolitan area. And as such, FB is absolutely perfect for keeping in a mild amount of contact with a very large group of people. Second, it’s a great way to keep in touch with people who move away and who may eventually move back (specifically, I’m thinking about college students). It DOES take more effort to stay in closer contact with the smaller subset of closer friends. But FB lets me see that there are a bunch of people who I can take effort to become closer to. And it’s the hand-down easiest way to keep in touch with far-flung family. And gives us more to talk about when I actually talk with them (tell me about that marathon you ran!). Of course, as with all things like this – it’s all what you make of it. I take a lot of effort to keep perspective and refrain from comparing my life to others’.