Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat and Pinterest have become household names, intertwined with our daily lives and livelihoods. With over 50% of the world using social media and up to 80% of Australians being active users, the potential for influence on our wellbeing is significant.

We know that social platforms are designed, in part, to capture our behavioural data and share it with commercial interests in mind. The challenges and pitfalls of this algorithm are understood, yet the scientific data on the psychological benefits of social media are still emerging. The question often missing from the discussion is: how can social media use be optimised so that it enhances both our wellbeing and flourishing in life?

We hear of FOMO (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, trolls, self-comparison, self-absorption, invasion of privacy, misinformation, and addiction. Through a positive psychology lens, we can also explore the affirmative outcomes of increased connection, a sense of belonging, social support, and information sharing.

The Research

We reference findings from a fascinating research paper – ‘Towards a framework for flourishing through social media’ (Gudka, Gardiner, Lomas November 2021).

A systematic search of peer reviewed studies, identifying flourishing outcomes from usage, was conducted, resulting in 118 final studies across 7 social media platforms, 50,000+ participants, spanning 26 countries.

The paper explored social media in the framework of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) – a theory of motivation. It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. SDT has been researched and practiced by a network of researchers around the world and is comprised of three key areas.

Competence = seeking to control the outcome and experience mastery.

Relatedness = the universal drive to interact, be connected to, and experience caring for others.

Autonomy = the universal urge to be causal agents of one’s own life and act in harmony with one’s integrated self.

The research analysis suggests potential for a ‘virtuous spiral’ where social media can positively affect our basic human needs of autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

This model also recognises the interplay of the intrapersonal and the interpersonal, through sub-domains such as Community, Trust, Respect, Loneliness and Belonging – all relevant themes of time spent both online and offline.

The paper concluded that the interaction between social media usage and flourishing is ‘bi-directional and nuanced.’ Like all human interaction, we receive and give energy during the exchange. There are subtle shades of meaning we can interpret in different ways.  It relies on a shift towards individuals being intentional in the nature of their engagement, to remain proactive and constructive to ensure they experience the benefits of social media use and minimise negative effects.

The Upside

Beyond the marketing power of the platform to help build business here is a list of some positive effects of Social Media use:

  1. Building relationships & staying connected
  2. Finding your voice, self-expression
  3. Establishing Authority
  4. An outlet for showing kindness and encouragement
  5. Offering & receiving support
  6. A sense of community
  7. Creativity
  8. Learning & education opportunities
  9. Raising awareness of important issues
  10. Developing a network of people who share similar interests

With billions of users, social media is likely to continue to play a huge role in our global community. The study of social media’s impact on both groups and individuals is still unfolding.  In the meantime, let’s continue enjoying our favourite platforms through a positive lens with awareness of others and self-compassion.

Ready to Learn More?

We look forward to inspiring you and others to live a happier, more engaged, and more fulfilling life.

Discover our upcoming course list here.

Register your interest for the Diploma of Positive Psychology with Langley Group Institute here.

Tune in to our new “Walk and Talk” podcast series where Sue and friends bring to life the science behind human flourishing.  Click here to listen.

To learn more, join Learn with Sue for eBooks on 7 Ways to Apply Positive Psychology, 10 Brain-Friendly Habits and How to Lead with the Brain at Work. Plus a range of tools to help yourself and others, including questionnaires, values cards, posters and more.