Younger people don’t say this, but I’ve heard several people in an older age bracket make a common argument recently: Facebook isn’t good for people’s happiness. “Instead of making plans and meeting face to face and doing things ,” one guy told me, “everyone’s typing away in front of a screen, alone — and it consumes so much time. It’s terrible for human relationships.”
I disagree. True, meeting face to face is more energizing and more fun and strengthens ties better. But not using Facebook because it isn’t as good as meeting in person is an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good .
In my own experience, Facebook allows me to manage ties to a much larger group of people than I could possibly manage in a more direct way. It makes it practical to keep track of people through many changes of e-mail address, mailing address, etc. It gives me a quick way to reach out to friends and also a low-key way to connect with people whom I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling or even e-mailing. And I’m sure not going to write a letter!
Perfect example: This morning I had coffee with a friend, “Jane,” whom I hadn’t seen in many years. We met when, a year after college, I moved to San Francisco for 10 months and lived with my college roommate, who was dating a guy who had a bunch of friends from college, including Jane — we all spent a lot of time together.
After I left San Francisco, I moved to New Haven, then to New York City, then to Washington, D.C., then back to New York. Jane moved from San Francisco to Cambridge, then to New York City, then to Kampala, then to Boston, then to Nairobi, then back to New York City.
I always liked Jane a lot, but she wasn’t one of my closest friends, and I lost track of her. (As she told me, “You lose five people with every move.”) Recently she found me on Facebook, and we reconnected — tremendously fun and big happiness booster. It turns out we live 13 blocks from each other!
Happiness experts, from ancient philosophers to contemporary researchers, agree that the key to happiness is strong ties to other people. We need need close, long-term relationships, we need to be able to confide in others, we need to belong, we need to give and receive support. Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.” If a midlife crisis hits, one of the most common complaints is the lack of true friends.
Anything that helps you hang onto your friends is going to make you happier.
* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just e-mail me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.