The Happiness Dilemma


We all spend hours each day on apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and others. Social media is not a complete waste of time. After all, they help us communicate quickly and easily, and we can pick up some tips from watching Tik Tok or reading the news on Instagram. However, ultimately, we devoted a great deal of time to viewing meaningless posts. Every year, younger children begin using social media, and on average, we spend at least 2 hours and 30 minutes online each day. Let’s look at the impact those applications have on our lives, our relationships, and our productivity.

Love on the brain

Numerous studies, including one from the Harvard Medical School, have demonstrated that every notification we receive has a little but significant dopamine-related impact on our brains. Dopamine is, in essence, a chemical that our brains manufacture and that is responsible for our happiness. It normally comes out when we exercise, consume wholesome foods, engage in sexual activity, or have fulfilling social interactions. Dopamine thus motivates us to repeat healthy behaviors by rewarding us with contentment when we do. 

Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that rewarding social stimuli such as likes, messages from a loved one, and even laughing emojis activate the same dopamine reward pattern. In other words, online social interactions provide us with an unlimited supply of social stimulus; all you need is a single device. 

Our brain’s positive response to notifications creates a cycle that makes it difficult for us to stop using social media, but it also explains why anxiety and depression are on the rise in our generation. Since we are constantly stimulated with micro-dopamine, it is harder for us to regularly feel genuine enjoyment. The scarcity of dopamine has become nonexistent, making it harder to truly experience it. 

Chamath Palihapitiya, Facebook’s former vice president of user growth, admitted, in a speech in front of Stanford’s students, that he felt “tremendous guilt” and that “the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”

In brief, social media has a short-term dopamine-stimulating effect on our brains, which makes us desire to use those platforms over and over again. But over time, if unregulated, it could seriously harm our brain’s capacity to regulate dopamine. Consequently, it becomes more difficult to feel happy.

The grass is always greener elsewhere

Every year, younger children start using social media, but it is not a tool that is appropriate for them. Even as young adults, it can be difficult to keep from comparing ourselves to the inflated lives we see on social media. We have perspective and have learned that what we see online is incredibly disconnected from reality. Even knowing this, we nonetheless find ourselves comparing our lives to those of online strangers. 

According to a study cited by professor Kardaras, university students who spent more than three hours on social media each school day had trouble sleeping and performed poorly on tests. Additionally, they had much greater rates of stress, depression, substance abuse, and suicide. The cause of it resulted in misleading social comparisons: in online posts, photos, and videos, the grass always seems greener elsewhere.

Many of your friends or family members may be going through the most difficult time of their lives while continuing to live their dream lives on Instagram. Why do we have to pretend? Is it to reassure ourselves that our lives are good? or in an effort to meet social expectations?

At what price?

Laurie Santos, a psychologist at Yale University in Connecticut, discovered that simply deciding to avoid social media has a greater impact on happiness than earning $100000 or marrying the love of your life. Other researchers have found that we smile 30 percent less when our phone is present. We underestimate the power those applications we use for entertainment have over our mental health. Every day, new research proves the negative impact this false reality has on us. 

Every aspect of our lives is being impacted by it. We have fewer meaningful interactions and are less engaged with our family as a result of our continual distraction by notifications. It is harder to focus on one thing at a time, and it is challenging to maintain focus for an extended period of time. We never spend more than a minute on a post since our brains have grown accustomed to finding distractions in only a few seconds when watching Tik Tok or Instagram videos. For the younger generations, it is getting harder to read a book or even watch a full movie. 

In order to satisfy our craving for social approval and our need to be entertained continually, we are scarifying our mental well-being. For some, it goes even as far as perceiving their self-worth depending on how well they look online.

Today, we are starting to realize that those applications we use for “free” come at a cost. A cost to our personal information but even more of a cost to our mental well-being and the quality of our relationships with others. In the long run, we will understand better how this surreal reality has impacted our relationships with ourselves, our loved ones, and the consequences our generation will have to deal with. 

Featured cover image: gettyimages

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