It's not Facebook making you miserable -- it's you

Is social media making us miserable? Study after study seems to confirm the increasingly common grumbling you hear — that the more time we spend on the platforms, the worse we feel about our lives.

The latest, by Holly Shakya from the University of California and Nicholas Christakis from Yale University, actually quantifies our misery. They found that there was as much as an 8 percent drop in personal happiness after using Facebook.

But is it actually Facebook that’s making us unhappy? There are a couple major flaws in this argument.

The first, and perhaps more obvious one, is that Facebook and other social-media platforms like Twitter or Instagram are reflections of our input. They don’t generate content to show us without our participation. We choose what we see.

Social media, and Facebook in particular, don’t invent things for you to get mad about, they only amplify what is already pissing you off.

On Facebook, we generally friend people we know “in real life.” Those people then show us what they had for dinner, post pictures of their kids and pets, share their political opinions and their selfies from vacation.

If that makes you feel unhappy, Facebook gives you a range of options. If seeing magical sunsets from your friend’s trip to Barbados induces rage, it lets you click “Hide Post-See fewer posts like this.”

If your friend has become a political automaton in the wake of an election but you hope they’ll eventually mellow, you can choose the “Pause friend for 30 days” option.

If you’re struggling to get pregnant, or recently got divorced, and your friend’s pictures of snuggling with her husband or kids upsets you, you can pick “Unfollow friend.” That’s the “mute” option on Facebook.

Your friend won’t know they’ve been silenced and you won’t be unfriending them. You can always unmute if circumstances change.

In fact, Facebook is the social network that most lets you tailor your experience to get what you want out of it. Of course your friends will annoy you on Facebook, as they might in real life, but only on Facebook do you have the ability to shush them for a little while or forever.

But that gets at what Facebook can’t do: Screen your daily real-life interactions.

In short, it’s not Facebook, it’s you. The “social media is making your miserable” experiments can’t quantify how much other things might make you miserable as well.

They’re not with you on the subway when you read an op-ed that makes you fume. They don’t see your eye-roll when you catch up with a friend over coffee and you end up listening to a half-hour infomercial on all the great things happening in your friend’s life.

Social media, and Facebook in particular, don’t invent things for you to get mad about, they only amplify what is already pissing you off.

And that leads us to the other flaw in these Facebook-makes-you-unhappy studies: People are already angrier than they used to be, creating a chicken-and-egg conundrum. If you poll angry people, it’s likely the interactions that boil their broth will have a lot of overlap with their daily routine.

That daily routine, by the way, includes lots of things that constitute an improvement over the daily lives of previous generations. Even though life expectancy has increased and quality of life continues to improve across the world, we’re angrier and sadder than ever before.

A 2015 study by Ryne Sherman, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Jean M. Twenge in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that while contentment used to come with age, our older people are no longer happy.

We can’t blame that on Facebook.

In a piece for Quartz last April, economist Allison Schrager posited that our expectations are too high.

Schrager writes, “Research by British neuroscientists argues that happiness requires more than things simply going well; people also must get more than they expect. So even if we have more than ever before—good health, leisure time, consumer goods—we have even grander expectations.”

That’s where the change needs to start. If social media is making you feel like you should be in a bikini on a yacht instead of under the fluorescent lights at work, hunched over your computer, it might not be the worst idea to give it a break. Filter your expectations and you might find you need to filter your interactions a lot less.

This piece originally appeared on the New York Post.

Karol Markowicz is a columnist at the New York Post. She has also written for Time, USA Today, The Observer, Heat Street, Federalist, Daily Beast and elsewhere.