The secret to being happy online | advice from the experts

Anna Akbari, PhD

…on virtual profiles

Sociologist, entrepreneur, writer and former professor at NYU and Parsons School of Design

Why are our profiles so important to us?

I often say our 2D selves outrank our 3D selves in the age of the internet. "Likes", retweets, and swiping "yes" make our brain's pleasure centre light up in the same way a drug does. It's very enticing, and the fact this validation is public makes it much more rewarding.

Do we compare ourselves to others more online than in the real world?

Comparisons happen everywhere humans exist. Online, we're inclined to compare at a higher rate than in the real world. But constant comparison can wear away our self-worth. "Facebook facelifts" are a real thing, and with the rise of Instagram, everyone feels pressure to look like a model all the time. But there is a positive side. Social media provides support in times of need and validation for our life choices too.

How many are a true reflection of us?

Zero. They're merely a snapshot of one side of us. Most people over-accentuate the good, but some undersell themselves. We are always cultivating a brand or honing a narrative.

How can we be happy online?

There's no regulatory body kicking you off Facebook or Instagram after a certain amount of time each day. Nor is someone stopping you from repeatedly virtually stalking your ex's profiles. Bottom line: you need to control your engagement with the platforms, and not fall victim to a constant state of virtual FOMO.

Donna Freitas, PhD

…on social media

University lecturer and author. Her latest book is The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost.

Can social media make us happier?

Yes, it can, sometimes, if we take the time to notice when it's making us feel better and when it makes us feel worse. I've found that people feel happier on social media when they were using it to connect directly to people in their lives.

How would you sum up our relationship with social media?

Love-hate, emotionally dependent, and obsessive. People talk about social media and their smartphones in the same way they might discuss a romance – probably a rather unhealthy romance.

What can we do to make it better?

I think we each need to pay attention to the different kinds of experiences and feelings we have when we're on social media and choose which activities to engage in, and which others to try and quit. I think this applies to different platforms as well – some people love Snapchat, whereas Facebook really makes them feel terrible.

How can we be happy online?

There is no one quick and easy way to figure this out. But people need to understand that we're all in the same boat, trying to make the best of it, and to enjoy it as much as we can.

Dr. Pamela Rutledge

…on being happy online

Director at the Media Psychology Research Center, Faculty member at Fielding Graduate University, Media Psychology, Instructor and Advisory Board Member at UC Irvine Extension and blogger for Psychology Today

Can the way we use the internet make us happier?

The internet itself doesn't make you happy or sad. But it's a very powerful tool that enables us to do activities that make us happy. For example, we can use it to expand our social circles and support network, and have our existence and ideas validated by others.

Why does our online activity have such power to affect our moods?

Because humans are social animals and rely on social connection for their mental and physical wellbeing, people are hypersensitive to things like social validation, affiliation, liking, disrespect and exclusions. We all react positively to being "liked" on social media.

Is there a 'best' way to be online?

The best approach for online use is to practice mindfulness and presence in your choices and actions. Be aware of when you go online so you're not doing it out of sheer habit. Being mindful allows you to think of your online activities in relation to what you want to accomplish.

How can we be happy online?

Take steps to avoid a situation that sparks your discomfort. For example, if following certain people on Facebook makes you feel left out or not good enough, unfollow them. If watching silly cat videos on YouTube makes you laugh, then schedule in a cat video during your coffee break. Laughter literally changes your body chemistry.

What's your score?

Skyping a friend, bagging an online-only deal, or getting retweeted – do you know what makes you happiest online? Test yourself in 12 digital scenarios to see what makes you feel cheery (or weary) online, and get your total happiness score.

Test your online happiness