I am an absolute nerd for positive psychology. Over the past year, I have been enamored with the simple concept that being positive is a competitive advantage. It sounds so easy: if I am positive, I will be happier and perform better. But if the correlation between performance and positivity is so profound, why doesn’t everyone practice it?
There is no simple answer; in fact, there are hundreds of answers that can correlate to negative behavior. To talk about all of them would be next to impossible and way above my pay grade, but today, I would like to focus on the impact of media and social media.
In a large-scale, long-term scientific study done by psychologist Jean Twenge, there was a strong positive correlation between adolescents who reported mental health issues and adolescents who spend more time on smartphone-related activities, primarily social media. This correlation shows that increased suicide rates in 2012 were likely brought on by rising levels of depression and anxiety stemming from social media use.
The effects of social media use are wide-reaching, but it’s not like we don’t know about them. At Bettendorf High School, I can just about guarantee that there have been over a hundred papers or short essays written on the negative impact of social media. In fact, our headline story on the April edition of the Growl was about just that. But despite our student body and teenagers’ general awareness of the issue, the use of social media has not decreased. In actuality, teens spend an average of nine hours a day online.
But how does the social media we consume affect us? Bailey Parnell has an absolutely fantastic Ted talk on the effects of social media. I highly suggest checking it out (link), but if you don’t have the time I will summarize it. In her talk, she outlines the four major stressors of social media. First, she outlines the tendency to compare your everyday life to everyone else's highlight reel. Second, she talks about the negative impact of comparing social currency, such as likes, follows, or shares. Third, she profiles the online harassment and bullying that adolescents are susceptible to receive. And fourth, she talks about the necessity of keeping social media for the fear of missing out.
The last point is significant because it underlies the importance of maintaining social media. In our increasing technology-based world, we cannot just delete social media and expect to have the same opportunities as someone who has it. There are many positive aspects of social media, such as the increase of connectivity, the promotion of noble causes, the following of inspiring accounts, and the creation of communities (@u_bett).
But how do we limit our social media intake to only the positive aspects and not the negative ones? As of right now, it is pretty difficult to do. Think of what has been trending over the past couple of weeks on social media. How BAD the last season of “Game of Thrones” was. How BAD a person James Charles is. How the contract that FaZe Clan gave Tfue is NOT fair. Even when we take out the comparison and harassment aspect of social media, the experience remains negative. When we see negativity all day, we know nothing other than to act negatively.
But what if you didn’t know how to be negative? What if instead of surrounding ourselves with content that breeds negativity, comparison, and hopelessness, we surround ourselves with content that flourishes with positivity, growth, and overcoming obstacles? The creation of your own personal social network for safe and positive online viewing would be powerful. There is no taking away the smartphone or stopping the internet, but shaping your platform to positively search and interact is a great place to start.