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Happiness Is… Updating My Facebook Page

I joined Facebook on February 13, 2008, solely to play online Scrabble with some coworkers. I had no idea what Facebook was and, honestly, all I wanted to do was shuffle my virtual tiles and satisfy my inner word-nerd. Fat chance! Before I knew it I was accepting friend requests and peeking at people’s walls until finally, on October 3, 2008 (I know this thanks to FB’s handy Timeline feature), I tentatively offered up my own first update: “… is feeling kind of lonely in her little office at the end of the hall” and, soon after, “…is purging Wyatt’s room of board books (and weeping ever so slightly…)”

The responses those little self-centered nuggets elicited from my FB friends were highly satisfying. Who wouldn’t appreciate knowing that other moms have shed a few tears while packing away a well-chewed copy of Goodnight Moon? I soon found myself checking FB daily, composing clever updates in my head and posting photos (mostly of my kids, but also of incredibly important stuff, like my toes after a particularly snazzy pedicure).

As it turns out, I may be getting more satisfaction out of FB than I realize. According to a new paper from Harvard titled “Disclosing Information about the Self Is Intrinsically Rewarding,” disclosing information about myself on Facebook may stimulate my mesolimbic dopamine system, including my nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental areas -- parts of the brain that get all happy when a person eats something delicious and, well, does other pleasurable things.

It’s hard to imagine that typing “Never do hip-hop in flip-flops. Never.” (7/8/09) can have the same effect as a gourmet meal and great sex, but since I continue to do it I have to think the researchers are on to something. They made their discovery by using MRI to observe subjects’ brains while they talked about themselves. Then, to seal the deal, they did separate studies in which participants could get paid to answer questions about themselves, or get paid more to answer questions about other people. Most people chose to forgo the extra cash in favor of answering questions about themselves.

Finally the researchers looked at people’s brains while they shared their opinions about something with another person or kept their opinions to themselves. Sure enough, the pleasurable effects on the brain were “magnified by knowledge that one’s thoughts would be communicated to another person,” according to the researchers. In other words, people get off on writing FB updates and tweeting, pinning, etc.

I would argue that social media can serve a higher purpose. I may share some me-centric stuff, but I also use my wall to give a shout-out to causes I care about, to hail the publication of a friend’s new book and to otherwise toot someone else’s horn. Case in point: A series of posts chronicling the capture of five squirrels who got into my kitchen not only elicited a huge response, it also got the rodent-whisperer who caught the critters at least one job wrangling some rats in a FB friend’s garage. I definitely felt good about that.

At Sharecare, thousands of experts -- doctors, dentists, dieticians, personal trainers, patient advocates and more -- share their opinions every day by answering your health questions as well as blogging on their profile pages. Magnify their reward by letting them know you’re listening! Go to your favorite expert’s profile page and friend them to keep up with their latest answers and posts. Hopefully these experts enjoy the same sort of payoff from helping members of the Sharecare community as I got from helping the rodent-whisperer, or from writing things like “Today my daughter became a woman: She got a cell phone.” (9/7/10). Thanks for the happy memories, Timeline!