The Power of Likes: How Social Media Creates Both Happiness and Depression

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I recently read a lot of articles on the topic of loneliness and millennials; apparently the generation born from 1990 and above is the loneliest and most miserable generation ever to exist. We have less sex than generations before us, we don’t like to ‘label’ relationships so we don’t have them – we basically catch feelings, hang with the person for a while, and then move on.

Social media has made us more connected to each other all over the world, and also the most disconnected generation.

Yes, we get to see what everybody is doing with their lives, who from your high school got engaged, or married, or got a second child at the age of 25, but how does that affect our own emotional state?

Some reports state that social media has extreme negative effects on our mental health and self-esteem.

Sure, we click that ‘like’ button when Jenny gets engaged or Dick writes a long post about how he finally got his dream job, but most of the time we get a little jealous and the little bitchy voice in the back of our mind starts with ‘and what are you doing about your life?’

Michelle Sedas says that when we’re already feeling down, social media can cause us to feel even worse. She writes about 3 reasons why social media makes you feel depressed:

     1.     Social media encourages social comparison: “Comparison is an act of violence against the self,” nothing is new about the negative effects of comparing yourself to others, however, the social media makes it so much ‘easier’. When I was a kid my parents compared my grades to the grades of other kids (how that messed up my adult self-esteem in another article), I compared my Christmas gifts to the gifts of my friends… Yeah, you compared yourself from time to time with others, but now with the ‘help’ of social media you compare yourself to others on a daily basis.

      2.     Social media keeps world events top of mind: I don’t agree with censorship on movies, PG13, and all that crap – stop making kids into snowflakes, however, I think one part of the media deserves censorship – the news. The news make us sad, angry, annoyed, it’s filled with thieves, murderers and politicians… All world events are now on social media, as well. Seeing constant reminders of the world we live in can attribute to the feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. And let’s not forget about tons of charity organizations who ‘exploit’ people’s emotions with tragic videos.

      3.     Social media use can be addictive and lead to more problems: Most of us check our social media at least once a day. Feeling bored – check social media, need something to read on the toilet – check social media, racist uncle gives another speech at a family dinner – check social media, just woke up – check social media, before falling asleep – check social media one more time. With social media taking over our smart phones it’s oh, so easy to just check something for a second.

Apparently millennials are also the most egoistic generation so far. We post everything online – from our cat giving birth to our bowel movements. We want to be seen, we want to be liked, but most importantly – we want to be validated.

Likes feel good.

And there’s an actual reason why likes on social media feel good – it gives us an actual high – it stimulates the same part of our brain as a bite of chocolate or a hug.

Getting a ‘like’ releases a shot of dopamine and oxytocin. While dopamine is a hormone that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centre, oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘love hormone’ because levels of it increase during hugging and orgasm.

Dopamine and oxytocin are often released when we do drugs, some even compare getting high with cocaine to the feeling of love. In fact, these two hormones are the leading cause for most of addictions – we want more of what makes us feel good, in social media case; likes.

The social media triggers that reward cycle and the more you get it, the more you want it,” explains psychologist Emma Kenny.

But not only do ‘likes’ on our posts make us feel good – the reason why we’re more likely to ‘like’ something that already has tons of likes is because of ‘crowd mentality’ – like animals, we follow the crowd.

Do you ever just ‘like’ something because it’s polite and socially expected? For example – the engagement announcement of someone from middle school – you don’t really care, but it’s polite to do so. In the olden days they sent congratulatory cards; today we ‘like’.

If you own a business, you obviously have to have a Facebook and Instagram page. We all want likes on our pages – it makes us feel good, it makes us feel like our work is validated. However, ‘likes’ have become social currency.

I’ve seen so many posts in some Facebook groups – ‘like for a like’ – you like my business page, I like yours. Or, Instagram comments – ‘I really like your picture, do you mind following me’, some follow your Instagram profile and if you don’t follow them back, they unfollow you. Hell, most of the time they unfollow you the moment you follow them back.

I’ve posted some of my writing (teen fiction) on a site called Wattpad. This was years ago. Most of the time people advertised their stories with – ‘like for like’, ‘comment for comment’, ‘read for read’. You see, the Wattpad algorithm worked like this – the more likes, comments and reads you had – the higher your story went, and if it got listed on the first page – you got millions of reads overnight.

To us, ‘like’ means ‘good’.

The more ‘likes’ a business page has – the better the product. Likes are a sort of validation of the product by the common folk, so we tend to put more trust into the brands that have more Facebook and Instagram likes.

But, can ‘likes’ be bought?

Yes. I remember this Instagram model who admitted (after she got super famous) that she bought her first 10,000 followers, and after that she began gaining followers like crazy. Not because her product would change, or the way she advertised, or her pictures, or her look – she got millions of followers because she bought those first 10,000 and the rest just followed ‘crowd mentality’.

So, it’s not farfetched to say – people can buy likes. In which case, do ‘likes’ really mean quality?

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