Connecting with family and friends, and having them comment on Facebook posts, can be as uplifting as getting married or having kids, according to a new study.
Facebook and our friends' comments have come to inspire intense feelings of happiness, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
"We're not talking about anything that's particularly labor-intensive," said Moira Burke, a research scientist at Facebook who earned a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon. "This can be a comment that's just a sentence or two. The important thing is that someone, such as a close friend, takes the time to personalize it. The content may be uplifting, and the mere act of communication reminds recipients of the meaningful relationships in their lives."
CMU researchers noted that there's a golden number. They found that 60 comments from close friends in a single month increased users' feelings of well-being as much as if they had gone through major life events, like getting married, buying a new house or having kids.
That news runs counter to a report came last year indicating that Facebook use could be linked to depression, jealousy and low self-esteem because it easily enables people to compare their lives to their friends'. The study from the University of Houston showed that using Facebook per se wasn't the issue as much as using it to compare your life to someone else's.
Robert Kraut, a professor in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, said it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. "You're left to wonder -- is it that unhappy people are using social media, or is social media affecting happiness?" he said in a statement.
The CMU study analyzed users' actual Facebook activities over a period of several months.
According to CMU, 1,910 Facebook users from 91 countries opted into the study and their data was analyzed without it being connected to their identities.
The researchers said they noted different types of activities - like posting, reading posts, making comments, clicking like - and whether the interactions were with people the users cared about or if they were with simple acquaintances.
"It turns out that when you talk with a little more depth on Facebook to people you already like, you feel better," Kraut said. "That also happens when people talk in person."
The CMU study showed that by connecting more with close friends and by reading comments instead of just getting 'likes', Facebook use makes people happier.
"This suggests that people who are feeling down may indeed spend more time on social media, but they choose to do so because they've learned it makes them feel better," said Burke. "They're reminded of the people they care about in their lives."
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