The Facebook Happiness Factor

So, naughty old Facebook has been using us as guinea pigs, and that is clearly not a good thing.

It isn’t nice to be ‘used’ without one’s explicit consent, and my first reaction was to shut down my account and jump ship to Google+.

But then it dawned on me.

This research was something I could use for my own benefit – so I did ….. and if I could, so can you.

Let me recap a little before we get to the meat.

So, here is the back story. A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that Facebook deliberately manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 users in order to study, what they refer to as, “emotional contagion” (neat phrase, huh? – note it down, we will  be using it again later).

It seems that they proved that they could make us happier or sadder by controlling the nature of the posts that we were allowed to see.

‘Wait, so they hid some stuff from me’ ?

Yes they did – and they pretty much always have.

What you see in your Facebook ‘feed’ is not ‘everything’ that your friends post.

Facebook uses an algorithm to decide which posts you should see, based on what they believe will make you ‘happier’.

Why would they do this?  ‘Cos happy campers stay on Facebook longer, and see more adverts – and that means more money for them.

Understandably, there has been a lot of discussion about the ethics of their actions, but that has been covered elsewhere, so lets move on.

….. and so, without further ado, here is the meat……..

Revelation #1 – ‘I Can Shape What I See in My Facebook Feed’

Did you know that Facebook gives you tools to modify your own feed?
I ‘kind of’ knew, but just never really bothered with them. I guess part of me suspected that any feedback I gave them would just result in them getting even slicker at showing me adverts.

I should have digged deeper ( or dug deeper – both are good – its the depth of the digging the matters here, not whether one uses biblical or archaic language).

Now, using only the tools Facebook gave me, I am a far happier bunny.
My facebook feed has less annoying posts in it, less annoying adverts in it, and (obviously) far more of the posts that amuse me.
… and I haven’t ‘un-friended’ anyone in the process.

Effectively, what I have done is shape my own ‘Emotional Contagion’, and you can do it too.

It isn’t complicated, we are going to prevent annoying shares, updates and adverts from appearing and adversely affecting our emotions.

Here is the process.

Step 1.
If you have any friends that need ‘unfriending’, do it now.
I didn’t need to, but just in case, get it out of the way first.

Step 2.
When you see something in your feed that you find irritating, click the small arrow on the top left of the post.



You will then see a menu like this:



You might not see exactly the same options, as this will depend on what they have posted/shared.

So in this case, should your FB friend ‘NiceButNeedy’ prove to be consistently irritating, you can just choose to ‘unfollow‘ them. This is not the same as ‘un-friending’, it just means that their updates and shares will no longer appear in the your Facebook feed. You can still see them if you need to by visiting their ‘Wall/Timeline profile’, and you can still message them etc.

But what if they are just irritating occasionally? Perhaps it not so much them, but their habit of sharing content from specific ‘irritating’ sites.
No problem, just choose the ‘Hide all from …’ option, and you will not see anything they share from that site again.

Perhaps you dislike the post for some other reason, maybe it is an irritating advert or a shared photo that bothers you.
If so, click the ‘I don’t want to see this‘ option and you will get a further menu similar to this:


Depending on which you click next, you may get some other options to filter the content further.

If you carry out this process regularly, your feed will start to contain content that gives only the positive ’emotional contagion’, you will feel happier, and no animals got hurt in the process 🙂

You can even refine the adverts that appear. I was SO irritated by those adverts that seem to be targeting me based on my ‘lack of youth’ (knee surgery, pension advice etc). I am seeing far less of them now I started beating them back with a stick.

Now, amongst my circle of friends are a few ‘internet professionals’ and experienced ‘Facebookers’ who probably knew most of the techniques mentioned above – well done you guys, take a pat on the back and feel proud. A few may even have drawn the connection between ’emotional contagion’ and the filtering tools we can use – extra pats on the back for you guys.

Not many of them will have applied my next revelation though.

How do I know?

‘Cos it involves the real world, and those internet pros don’t get out much.

Real World, huh.. go on….

Ok, I shall…….

Revelation #2 – ‘Why Stop at Facebook?

The above strategy worked so well for my Facebook feed, that it gave me one of those ‘light bulb’ moments … it doesn’t stop at Facebook.

The (now scientifically proven, remember) concept of ‘Emotional Contagion’ clearly applies to other internet activity, and, more importantly to the ‘real’ world – the one that exists outside of the Internet.

So. what ’emotional contagion’ do we need to protect ourselves against in ‘Meat World’?

  • Irritating TV shows
  • Annoying Newspapers
  • Annoying People

… and a whole load more no doubt.

So What Can We Do About It?
At the risk of sounding like one of those odious ‘self help gurus’, I would suggest that the most important step is to creatively apply the ‘unfollow’ process to friends and acquaintances.

Some friends are ‘one way traffic’ or high-maintenance in some other way. They wear you out with their emotional dramas, but have little to offer in the way of support when you need it.

Others may just have ‘behaviour patterns’ that suck you in to their world of instability and emotional turmoil.

‘Unfollowing’ these people does not necessarily mean losing them as a friend, it might just mean consciously controlling their access to you. If you are feeling strong, and emotionally positive, no problem. If you are down, avoid them, or (nicely) steer them away from those topics that cause the damage.

Of course, in some cases it may actually be best to cut them away completely – don’t feel bad about this. Just ask yourself whether you should ever have classed them as a friend when being with them is damaging to you?

The important thing is to realise that your ‘happiness’ is not just a result of those events of which you are consciously aware, but also those ‘almost hidden’ environmental issues that are hard to spot.

Control your environment, filter your friends, and control your own ’emotional contagion’ and you will be the ‘happy you’ that is the right type of contagion for those friends that matter.

Yes, I know some of this DID end up sounding like  the odious ‘self help gurus’ I referenced earlier – but in my defence, the difference is that this is now SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN thanks to Facebook.


If you feel the need to share this post, please do it responsibly – I couldn’t stand the irony of it becoming negatively contagious.

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