Does using Facebook make you happier?

I’ve long suggested that those worried about inequality, envy, and relative deprivation should tax Facebook rather than the private fortune of Bill Gates.  Most envy is local, and connected to people you know and whose lives you are in touch with.  Along these lines, here is some recent research by Verduyn,

Prior research indicates that Facebook usage predicts declines in subjective well-being over time. How does this come about? We examined this issue in 2 studies using experimental and field methods. In Study 1, cueing people in the laboratory to use Facebook passively (rather than actively) led to declines in affective well-being over time. Study 2 replicated these findings in the field using experience-sampling techniques. It also demonstrated how passive Facebook usage leads to declines in affective well-being: by increasing envy. Critically, the relationship between passive Facebook usage and changes in affective well-being remained significant when controlling for active Facebook use, non-Facebook online social network usage, and direct social interactions, highlighting the specificity of this result. These findings demonstrate that passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being.

The pointer is from Robin Hanson on Twitter.


I cut the cord to Facebook years ago. I also no longer use Linkedin. I don't Twitter either. The only success I had was with, believe it or not, with MySpace where I met some Filipino girls years ago (but no longer keep in touch with them). My fiancee? I met her in the Mall of Asia, the old-fashioned way, meet and greet in person (I was actually waiting for another girl that I met through a local dating site). That said, electronic media is a good way to meet girls that you would not otherwise meet, since most girls are reluctant to date a foreigner.

Also kill your TV, though my gf half my age uses all of the above and watches lots of TV, it's always on in the house, and I have to mentally block it out. The weepy Asian soap operas are the worse, the girls are constantly crying every few minutes...

Rayray, "half my age" doesn't mean what you think it does. I don't care what your age is - it's simply a fact that women start to decrease in attractiveness after 25. I don't want to know about one hundred year old Ray Lopez's 50 year old girlfriend.

Dat AARP Membership.

@Facts -- I'm in my mid fifties, she's in her mid twenties. She's really hot. I have a problem sometimes keeping up with her, but modern pharma is a help. That's as far as I can go on this family site... thanks for your concern.

Are we invited to the wedding?

@J - yes you're invited, if you don't mind travel. According to US law, I have I think 90 days to marry her once she steps foot on US soil ("fiancee visa"). I'm all for marriage, as she's wonderful, but I hate such arbitrary and forced timetables. I might marry thrice: once in PH, once in GRE, and finally, last and least in the USA, where weddings are expensive (here in PH you can do a fancy wedding for $5k).

Are you worried about the moment your fiancée meets your girlfriend?

LOL....more likely worried about how her pimp will take it when Ray marries one of his best hos.

Why do you use inequality and envy in the same sentence like they are interchangeable?

Some real next level trolling from Tyler on this one.

I wonder if he appreciates the irony that one of the gates foundation's primary goals is reducing inequality.

For the record, professor, you don't have to envy the rich to be concerned about inequality.

Yes, I have to say I was surprised by that as well. If someone is concerned about inequality in a broad sense, it's not because everybody is sitting at home stewing about his rich brother-in-law (queue H.L. Mencken quote). In my view the thing to be concerned about is the various spending arms races that get us nowhere and accomplish nothing, when we'd all rather have a cure for (disease) instead.

People who are concerned about inequality in the broad sense are sitting home stewing about the guys in college who went into banking or tech instead of a noble professions like blogging.

100% correct.

The only possible exception is cross country inequality where there actually is crushing poverty, but how common is that on blogs? Not very.

It is also about power. The poor activist/blogger has very limited economic power. They want the power to enact their will. So they target the resources which acquired by other for application to their wishes. It is always about having power over others.

I certainly don't deny that such people exist, but I don't think the larger debate about inequality is a matter of mere localized jealousy.

It doesn't surprise me that the glib libertarian dismissal of inequality concerns with, "Return to your tenements. This has nothing to do with US. This is Facebook's fault!" rings hollow for most people.

"In my view the thing to be concerned about is the various spending arms races that get us nowhere and accomplish nothing, when we’d all rather have a cure for (disease) instead."

This tells us what we need to know about inequality in the US. In the United States, poor people aren't dying of disease in any significant way. Instead, 'inequality' is all about jockeying for status. I'm living like a king on about 29k/annually (with the exception of unaffordable $600/mo health insurance, age 26, thanks Obama.) for a family of three. But apparently, I'm living a life of victimization. Because I can't afford flashy cars or something. But also apparently, I'm a member of an elite world-ruling organization known as the Patriarchy - and so, wealthy white women need me to give them money. Can you clear up my confusion here, J?

"Most envy is local, and connected to people you know and whose lives you are in touch with."

Maybe, that's why inequality between the top 1 percent and the next highest 1 percent is an issue primarily of concern to educated elites.

Regarding the research though, revealed preference indicates that Facebook users gain some sort of utility from usage. What do the researchers believe "passive" Facebook users gain to compensate for their purported decline in "affective well-being"?

This seems to assume that people always make rational decisions that maximize total benefit, which is clearly not the case.

Honestly, it's probably straight BS. The people who use Facebook to manage their very large group of distant and close friends are having a great time. The people who are "friends" with their high school and college class on Facebook but not in real life are faced with the reality of their suckage constantly. Fire whomever made this research. Seriously.

Did you even read the abstract?

Well even if he didn't read the abstract he nailed the findings.

Not being able to get access to the paper, I am assuming active user means contributing. Passive user means just looking. Right there, I have a problem with the study because they are dividing the subjects into what I'll call normal people with a balanced outlook on life, and losers. Of course people with no social life will be envious -- they probably getg envious whatever the social interaction.

Maybe I'm abnormal but I don't get envious of my friends' achievements on Facebook. I happen to be an active user (ooh, there's another picture of my kid's cuteness). I also only have real friends on Facebook, together with people I don't know but find intellectually interesting. I love to hear when my friends get a new job or buy a nice house.

I think the authors may lack some basic insight into human nature. Gotta go with Thomas and RoyL on this one.

Maybe you're not envious of your friends because your life is better than theirs. Maybe your friends are envious of you.

'rather than the private fortune of Bill Gates'

Because punishing a monopolist's behavior is counterproductive? Somehow, we had less sympathy for Rockefeller, though one should also be clear that Standard Oil has pretty much been reconstructed into three parts, with just a short stint headquartered in Fairfax for the largest of the three -

Well Facebook could easily be called an abusive monopoly itself.

After all:

All its competiors are punchlines: myspace, orkut...

It uses its market position to damage other firms: remember what happened to Upworthy

It has used its market position to interfere in politics and elections

It conducts secret scientific experiments on its users...

Actually it sounds more like a super villain in a '60s spy novel than a mere monopoly. Or at the very least the FCC should regulate it as a public utility, since it seems far more abusive than any broadband provider.

To further your point, RoyL, after playing Zukerman in the Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg will now play Lex Luthor in the new Superman movie.

Exactly, clearly both Sorkin and Zack Snyder are on board with my plan.

I demand he be tried before the people and facebbok should be expropriated by DHS in their name and be declared a public monopoly like the post office.

Too bad Batman vs Superman is going to be an epic disaster, and the blowback will make super hero movies as dead as the Western.


1. Force everyone to get a facebook page or pay a fine.
2. Force everyone with an existing facebook page, to get a new facebook page.
3. Force a maximum 3:1 ratio of facebook activity between popular people and unpopular people
4. Create a federal level website to increase the reliability, confidentiality, and integrity of the crumbling facebook infrastructure.

I work in international tourism and I meet a lot of people. It's a good way of keeping in contact with those that I made a connection. Keeping in contact with those who are on the other side of the world gives me a lifeline to them. That gives me satisfaction. And sometimes happiness. So yes, Facebook gives me happiness.

That's because you're an *active* Facebook user, posting stories, sending messages to others. The research showed that *passive* users suffer from envy. This makes sense intuitively: if you have a dull life (perhaps because you're poor) you won't post anything, and you'll spend all day watching people with interesting lives post photos of how amazing their lives are. Be thankful that your life is interesting!

Yes, the keyword here is "passive" user. However, you don't need to be poor to be dull.

In my current state of jobless poverty, I'm still on Facebook but instead of checking into places or posting pictures of myself next to some awesome foreign food, I link to pictures found on the net, or articles. One can be an active user without being poor.

It's true though that Facebook users respond more to personalized posts. Even here though sharing your thoughts about say, ENVY ON FACEBOOK, would likely garner more engagement.

The envy is over status, not wealth, the status on Facebook derived from the display of "friends" and envy the result of others having more "friends" than you. In a world of increasing inequality, lower and middle class people have turned to markers other than wealth for status, including having more "friends" on Facebook and the latest gadgets turned out by Silicon Valley. The wealthy may compete in status with their yachts and mansions in the Hamptons, while the lower and middle class compete in status with their "friends" and gadgets. In both cases, however, there's always someone with more status, which is depressing, whether it's because your yacht and mansion are smaller than your neighbors or because your number of "friends" and gadgets is smaller than your neighbors.

This also relates to the "genius" of Steve Jobs. I believe he understood the human desire for status, and that status for the vast majority was derived not from yachts and mansions that they couldn't afford but by owning affordable gadgets that had the image of wealth. I'm not sure Mark Zuckerberg shares that "genius", but perhaps, as it's sometimes said that he created Facebook for college students at Harvard to share information about themselves to other students at Harvard. Whether students at Harvard derive status on Facebook is a question I can't answer. The irony of Job's "genius" is that he didn't seem motivated by status for himself, as he lived a relatively (for his wealth) modest life. For Jobs, status came from outdoing his ppeers, such as Bill Gates.

I think you have that backwards, Jobs was motivated most by status, and in particular the absolute power in his own universe that came with it. Everything about how Apple was run was designed to elevate Jobs above all others.

Status has very little to do with material comforts, though I will remind you that part of his concern with status was so great he bought a new 125k car every six months so he wouldn't face the indignity of having to have a California license plate on it.

Ghandhi famously owned almost nothing, yet he was the most powerful man in India and practically deified outside it. He could lead millions through opaque hints, it is quite clear he was very concious of his status and worked hard to increase it.

Facebook has definitely brought me happiness but I believe this is down to different generations. While my parents believe Facebook can lead towards envy and even a breach of privacy, I find it a tool for keeping in better contact. I talk to my friends in Facebook message groups that live across the world (old friends), send images and videos for free and access this all with my smartphone while im on the move. It has made my life a lot easier.

You're trolling. The problem with super rich people having huge fortunes is not that people will get jealous of them and feel subjectively bad emotions, it's that because the diminishing marginal utility of wealth means large fortunes are an inefficient allocation of resources.

I have negative equity at the moment, could you write me a check? Due to diminishing marginal utility I can use it better than you. #jargondoesntproveanything #snark #trollingjustalil

Inevitably when I make pro-redistibutive policy comments on this blog idiot libertarians (as opposed to non-idiot libertarians which seem to be far rarer in the comment sections of economic blogs than they are in real life) make the same lame "write me a check" joke. I support policies that should they come into being would likely be against my parochial financial interests, I also support charities like give directly. My unwillingness to finance particularly internet libertarian trolls is not the scathing indictment of egalitarian economic policy you imagine it to be, and rather serves as evidence of how poorly considered your adopted ideology is.

You say a lot, all I hear is BOING BOING BOING.

You "support" them? That's a fine cost-free way of feeling good about yourself and looking good to others.

You're also wrong on the economics, glib and tired citation of declining marginal utility notwithstanding.


You call libertarians idiots but you don't know the difference between efficiency and utility.


"because the diminishing marginal utility of wealth means large fortunes are an inefficient allocation of resources."

This phrase is confused at best. Indeed, wouldn't the expectation be that diminishing marginal utility of wealth leads to greater investment vs consumption and would actually lead to a more efficient allocation of resources?

I do know the difference between utility and efficiency. It's limitations in the way you model the problem that are the source of your confusion. If we want to maximize utility for a group of people a solution that allocates all resources to one person will likely be inefficient because of the diminishing marginal utility of wealth (which is apparently glib and tired to bring up, while a monomaniacal preoccupation with the deadweight losses of redistributive taxation is just good sense...) If you want to maximize the total number of financial resources regardless of the utility people derive from them you would be smart and I would be dumb, but since that's a stupid problem to try and solve the efficacy of your prescription for solving it is proof of little more than your moral Aspergers.

I think less insults and straw man arguments might be more convincing.

Name-calling and hostile attitudes is one of the least effective ways of changing minds or having productive conversations. On the other hand, you may not be interested in that and rather just want to shout at people for some reason, in which case, fire away.

Snarky, tired reuse of the boring old 'send me a check' crap is equally ineffective at having productive conversations. Foody started out polite (for this place), then the tired-ass comment arrived right away.

'Gee if Warren Buffett thinks the rich should be taxed more why doesn't he send in all his money to the government?' So. God. Damned. Stupid.

Also true.

I think the boards here are pretty intelligent and congenial, as boards go. Nonetheless, it's unfortunate to see Foody responded to in a way that makes him feel more correct. His idea of efficiency relies on the notion that a rich person's assets are kept like Scrooge McDuck's gold coins in a silo.

The post is at least as cringeworthy as the response, if more earnest and elaborate.

Ask Leon Feingold.


The paper does not deal with Facebook in general, but PASSIVE Facebook usage...just looking at others Facebook pages.

If you just look at other's Facebook pages, this study applies to you. But, the comments above (with a few exceptions), and the headline, are eliciting comment involving ACTIVE and PASSIVE Facebook usage.

The best looking more socially adept woman I ever dated was the kind of girl who made sure all her female friends were less good looking than her and lower in status. She was wildly popular and put also no effort into her relationships because her circle basically worshipped her. Almost anything she wanted was offered up to her at her merest suggestion because her inferiors were basically in love with her. I am sure she had terribly low self esteem to be this way, but you would never know it and whenever she was down a little time basking in the adoration of those she deigned to associate with would lift her spirits completely. You could say she is a terrible person but after all these years it still seems to be working out for her.

I notice I am rarely depressed by facebook, because I mostly ignore it. Just by default it is filled with people junior to me and the few who actively post seem a little buffoonish to me. Thus when I look at it every week or so when the alerts have piled up on my phone I feel caught up and not unhappy at all.

I guess the trick to passively using facebook is to fill it with the people you really don't want to regularly interact with and yet don't exactly want to lose touch with.

I envy people all the time, I just don't friend them om facebook.

>Most envy is local

I think this is the wisest thing I've ever read on MR.

Obama can try for years to make people jealous of Bill Gates, but it will not work. (Although the masses might be convinced to tax him more, but that's because they can't see the big picture, not because they are jealous.)

But if your neighbor manages to find a job in the Obama economy and you still can't? That will bring out pure rage.

Am I the only one to use FB mostly as a newsfeed from my fave sites, while blocking most friends and their messages because they're not that interesting, and getting in the way of the latest photos from Mars?

I like my friends but I'm not interested in their politics, latest meal and holidays at Disneyland. FB for me works best as a glorified phone book.

Envy has great effects in economics. As a 25 year old wearing a beanie and currently writing from a Crown Heights coffeeshop, I would hazard the guess that the pressure to seem cool really does incentivize people to go out more, etc. Which, as someone who has "holding fast to the spirit of youth" built into his utility function I can only be grateful for. It also probably makes us collectively funnier, which is a good thing. This is, anyway, as with most comments about my generation, a partial equilibrium paper.

It's amazing too when you think of how many people on FB shield the world from what they're up to for professional reasons.

Your cousin's friend who checked-in at the cool bar in SOMA? Yea she also went home with the studly bartender.

Thanks for finally talking about >Does using Facebook make you
happier? <Loved it!

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