Facebook Envy: 7 Sad Facts (And 4 Strategies To Stop It)

There is a lot of envy on Facebook. According to one study, every third person felt worse and more disappointed with their life after using Facebook.

Facebook users see their happy friends on their timelines and unconsciously conclude that their lives are easier and better. This makes them miserable and envious.

In fact, research shows that anyone using Facebook can develop dangerous levels of envy.

We’ve all been there at some point in our lives. And we have wondered, how could we get over it?

What Is Facebook Envy

Facebook envy is the awful, bitter feeling one gets when they realize that other people’s lives on Facebook are more fun, interesting, and worthwhile than their own. It results from comparing one’s regular daily life to the best moments of others. Studies show 1 in 3 people report feeling worse after using Facebook.

An urban dictionary definition of Facebook envy: A feeling of intense jealousy that sweeps over you once you find your friends’ lives are way more fun than yours.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network with over a billion users, is an unparalleled platform for social assessment. Given its reach and range, it has been the go-to place for many social scientists.

Can you overcome your Facebook envy?
Can you overcome your Facebook envy?

A few years back, German scientists found watching your friends’ holidays, love lives, and business successes on Facebook can create envy in you. Which can then set off emotions of anguish and loneliness.

A joint research (Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?) team from two German colleges, with Thomas Widjaja, Helena Wenninger, and Peter Buxman from Darmstadt Technical University, and Hanna Krasnova from Humboldt University, presented their findings at an Information Systems conference in Germany in February 2013. They based their conclusions on two studies that involved 600 participants.

Envy on Facebook was massive, as they found. One in 3 people felt worse after going to the website and felt more disappointed with their lives. And the participants who browsed Facebook passively had the greatest impact on this.

“From our observations, many of these people will leave Facebook or at the very least reduce their use of the site,” said Krasnova to Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat to Users’ Life Satisfaction?. This adds to the conjecture that Facebook might be close to reaching a saturation point in a few marketplaces.

Of the two studies, the first looked over the scale, scope, and nature of envy situations provoked by Facebook. In this, the respondents got asked:

“Many users report feeling frustrated and exhausted after using Facebook. What do you think causes these feelings?”

Almost 30% felt that envy was the major reason. Envy ranked the highest in causing Facebook frustration. In fact, it ranked much higher over feelings of loneliness, loss of time, and ‘lack of attention.’

The second study explored how following other people’s lives on Facebook triggered feelings of envy.

What they found in this was passive following on Facebook was negatively linked to life satisfaction. That is, the more intense their passive following, the less amount their life satisfaction.

Passive following means surfing Facebook without making any updates or interacting with others.

Envy on Facebook Wall
No Envy On My Wall!

7 Sad Findings From The Study On Facebook Envy

The overall findings this research threw up might end up surprising you:

  1. Facebook makes users dissatisfied and envious. One-third of people felt worse and more frustrated with their lives after going to Facebook.
  2. Passive surfers on Facebook felt the greatest dissatisfaction among all its users. Another 2013 study by Ethan Kross and Philippe Verduyn said the same thing — that passive use of Facebook leads to people feeling less and less good over time. This was mainly because of increasing feelings of envy toward others.
  3. Envy on Facebook leads to an “envy spiral.” That is, those who felt envy often took to dressing up their timelines with pictures and statuses that will further make others envious.
  4. Vacation images were the most common cause of animosity on Facebook, as the researchers conclusively found. Holiday shots sparked over 55% of the envy incidents on Facebook.
  5. A comparison of social interaction was the second most typical reason for envy. The users compared how many birthday greetings they received against their Facebook friends. They also counted how many Likes or remarks they gathered on their images and posts.
  6. The third most frequent cause of envy was the “happiness of others.” Men, specifically those in their mid-30s, were more than likely to envy the happiness of others. The researchers guessed that this was because the men tended to post more self-promotional stuff on Facebook — to let people know of their achievements and portray themselves in a better light.
  7. Simultaneously, the women were more prone to envy the physical attractiveness — looks and beauty — of their Facebook friends. The reason was that women tended to post more content on their walls that emphasized good looks and happier social lives, so this was a ready point of reference among them.

Kross and Verduyn (another study) found that the more people used Facebook at a certain time, the worse they felt the next time. And the more they used Facebook over a given period, the more their life satisfaction levels fell during that period.

Just think: Facebook was devised to raise people’s happiness levels by making social interactions easy. But in truth, it does just the reverse. Envy on Facebook in its ubiquitous presence sabotages the life satisfaction of users.

Envy ranked the highest factor in causing Facebook frustration.

4 Smart Ways To Overcome Facebook Envy

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It will always be. That’s human. And that’s what causes envy. It’s hard to shed the feeling. But we can try to overcome Facebook envy using the following four hacks.

Here are 4 simple ways to get better of your Facebook envy:

1. Realize their lives have frustrations too

Facebook is the case of what you see is not what there is. Know that people post their best sides there. Facebook is a playground for the narcissist within us. Facebook fuels middle-aged adults’ narcissistic tendencies. You don’t post your down-in-the-dumps statuses often, so why should they? Scratch the surface. Underneath, their lives probably have nearly as many dark spots as yours.

2. Pass over their holiday pictures discreetly

Understand clearly that they are on a holiday and you are not. In all probability, you are watching those pictures from inside your daily routine. Shots of your friends holidaying in picturesque places on earth are the biggest cause of Facebook frustration and envy. Don’t flip through them. And if possible, don’t even acknowledge them.

3. Take occasional breaks from Facebook

Go on a social media detox. And remember to not be passive in following them from under the covers while on your detox. It would do more harm to your happiness. Rinse and repeat as often as you can: Do not passively follow others on Facebook. At least hit the Like button.

4. Stop comparing your life with others in general

Then carry over this change of attitude to your Facebook. Social comparisons with those who appear better off will cause you to envy and make you unhappy. Nudge yourself consciously to stay away from social comparisons. After all, comparing your entire life with the best bits of your Facebook friends will always be a self-defeating scenario.

envy-grass-greener-other-side
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Further Reading

  • Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Patrick Ferrucci, Margaret Duffy. (2015). Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: Is Facebooking depressing? Computers in Human Behavior.
  • Mai-Ly N. Steers, Robert E. Wickham, and Linda K. Acitelli. (2014). Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
  • Liu yi Lin B.A. Jaime E. Sidani Ph.D. Ariel Shensa M.A. Ana Radovic M.D., M.Sc. Elizabeth Miller M.D., Ph.D. Jason B. Colditz M.Ed. Beth L. Hoffman B.Sc. Leila M. Giles B.S. Brian A. Primack M.D., Ph.D. (2016). Social Media Use Associated With Depression Among U.S. Young Adults.

Final Words

A team of scientists led by van de Ven from the Tilburg Institute for Behavioral Economics Research found that there can be two different types of envy: Benign, and Malicious. What kind of envy is Facebook envy?

The benign kind of envy can be good for you. It can propel you to learn more, perform better, and get more motivated. The second kind, malicious, is destructive; it can drag you down and take away your happiness.

So, stick to being a small bit, the benign kind of, envious by comparing with only those — on Facebook and in life — who are just marginally better than you. It will drive you to change in a positive way.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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