Happy Together: Facebook on Relationships and Positivity
Does being in a relationship make you a happier person? One social media giant now claims that their user data indicates a resounding "yes," and even more so if you're married - but not if it's an open relationship.
The Facebook data team extrapolated the happiness level of their users by considering how many positive and negative terms people used in their status updates - a methodology previously utilized to calculate the US Gross National Happiness Index.
The team's findings may or may not surprise you, depending on your own relationship status - married people are the happiest! "People who are in a relationship seem less happy compared to married folks," explained study author Lisa Zhang. "[However,] there is less variation in both positivity and negativity amongst married people. Married people, however, tend to be older, and we know from other studies that people do become happier as they age."
The least happy people? It's not single people, nor widows - and not even those folks engaged in messy "it's complicated" scenarios! The unhappiest folks on Facebook are those in open relationships. However, this is in another regard a measure of expressiveness - perhaps those who are willing to disclose their being in an open relationship simply have personalities with higher levels of self-disclosure than others. This could also potentially illuminate why widowed people had the lowest levels of emotional expression in their status updates - a lower degree of self-disclosure.
The study, like most put out by the Facebook data team, is not without its discontents. The study wholly overlooks the public setting of Facebook status updates. As Sara Inés Calderón of Inside Facebook very eloquently put it, "this information in and of itself is skewed. A Facebook status update can be seen by friends, family and the family of one's spouse -- people may be posting positive status updates to be seen by others even if they are not happy on the inside. Judging 'happiness' in its absolute sense is something that is arguably outside of Facebook's scope."
Christopher Stedman of secular humanist blog Non-Prophet Status also remains nonplussed by efforts to quantify user happiness. "I'm wary of using Facebook as a reliable source for analyzing people's emotional-spiritual health," he opines. "That being said, I don't think that it is fair to argue that one's relationship status is an indicator of one's level of happiness. Correlation does not equate causation." Stedman raises an excellent point that underscores another trouble with studies of this sort: "if being in a relationship actually does make people happier - as some studies similarly say about religion - does it mean I should run out and date the first willing person I meet?"
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