Is Facebook Making Us Sad?

Question: Do public venues like Facebook and Twitter complicate optimalism?

Tal Ben-Shahar: I think that generally there is a problem with being out there all the time. We also need our bits of solitude. Some people, the introverts, need it more than others, the extroverts. But we all need it and it's important to have a private life by externalising everything that we do and we think about -- I think we're hurting some of our potential for growth. We learn, we grow, we develop when we're reflecting and when we are reflecting without thinking about how this is going to look on Facebook or Twitter or on our blog. So I think there is place for privacy, which we are to some extent losing. Having said that, there is also much benefit with being -- with the social networks. With more in touch with other people; meeting someone you went to school with in third grade, thanks to Facebook. I mean, that's a wonderful thing.

Question: What are the most common barriers to happiness?

Tal Ben-Shahar: What many people think is that the problem lies with having too high expectations, so if we lower our expectations we will not be disappointed, hence we'll be happier. The problem, though, as a lot of research suggests, is not with high expectations versus low expectations. The issue is wrong expectations versus right expectations. Many people have the expectation that getting that next raise or buying that bigger car or getting the promotion will make them happier, where, in fact, it does lead to more happiness, but only for the short-term. There is only a spike in ones base level of well-being. So people who have these expectations that the achievement of the external will make them happier will inevitably be disappointed unhappy.

The issue is having the right expectations. If our expectations are that more time with our family and friends, being more physically active, being more grateful for what we do and what we have; if our expectations are that these things will make us happier, then we have the right expectations and we will in fact become happier.

Recorded on:  September 23, 2009

Facebook and Twitter, by making our lives increasingly public, make avoiding the dangerous drive towards perfectionism difficult—Tal Ben Shahar explains why.

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