On the whole, people assume that those around them lead happier lives than they themselves do. Dartmouth psychology fellow Alex Jordan noticed that his friends, when logging onto Facebook, became depressed about their own lives. Everyone else seemed to be happier, more successful, and more active. Jordan began to explore and research the differences between how we perceive others’ quality of life and how life actually feels to them. As discussed in this article, time and time again, people rated others’ lives as higher quality and their own lives as lower quality. They thought that others had more fun at parties, had more active social lives, and had fewer problems and negative emotions.
What this research illuminates is not simply that we view others’ lives positively; it’s that we don’t really know what’s going on in the lives of those around us. Few of us share the negative emotions we’re experiencing. People don’t talk about needing to find a therapist to deal with their depression or anger management, about going to grief counseling after the loss of a parent, or about feeling distant from their spouse. We share the things we’re proud of, the things we want others to see. As a result of this filtering, our lives look more perfect from the outside than they actually are, and since others’ lives look better, too, we think that we’re alone in our struggles.
“Paradoxically,” said the study’s co-author Benoît Monin, “if we told others how unhappy we are, we would probably all be happier in the long run.” We’d know each other better, feel less alone in our problems, and be able to offer mutual support for the things we’re going through. Therapy is very effective for overcoming any number of mental and emotional hurdles, but it’s even more effective when there’s social support between sessions.
Susan Young (2010). Sharing in sorrow might make us happier, study shows. phys.org. Web. http://phys.org/news/2010-12-sorrow-happier.html. 31 August 11.
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