Researchers Find That Social Media Can Make You Happier or Miserable

People who enjoy a sincere connection with others online are happier than those fixated on image and marketing.

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By Lesya Liu

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Social media has its many virtues and vices. Some believe people are becoming less social as a result of social media; others say it's bringing us closer than ever.

A new study from University of Leuven in Belgium finds that Instagram, the hottest platform on the market, can help adolescents cope with depression and social anxiety. In a large-scale study, youths were surveyed twice a year regarding their use of social media and their life contentment. Instagram usage correlated with feelings of friendship and closeness which reduced depression. The full report will be presented this May at the 67th annual International Communication Association conference in San Diego, California.

Despite the encouraging result, the research team advises that if your Instagram usage doesn't make you feel closer to friends, the social networking app can actually be hurting you. Case in point: the most followed person on Instagram, Selena Gomez, who now boasts 116 million followers. Recognition of her instagram supremecy "sort of freaked out" Gomez shared with Vogue.

"It had become so consuming to me. It's what I woke up to and went to sleep to. I was an addict," she told Vogue. "I always end up feeling like shit when I look at Instagram. Which is why I'm kind of under the radar, ghosting it a bit."

Related: Breaking These 13 Bad Habits Will Make You Happier

So, are we, as entrepreneurs, connecting with our customers on a new genuine level or are we chasing after likes? The answer is probably somewhere in between. Social media provides this unique instant gratification -- as soon as you posts something, people are showing you their support, approval and admiration. This is especially true on Instagram, where a lot of individuals yearning to become Instafamous are participating in "follow-for-follow" schemes.

Because we want our business to look, and of course be, successful, we're after as many followers and likes as we can possibly get. It makes sense, we as humans perceive "popular" things to be "great" and "cool." What we fail to recognize, though, is that we're going down a rabbit hole, looking for more ways to promote our business and be seen by as many people as humanly possible. This is, clearly, the wrong way to do social media.

Related: 5 Steps You Can Use to Find Your Niche

The unmistakably correct way to do this whole social thing is to be sociable, to be of service and to be authentic. A majority of Instafamous personalities and brands built their following on authenticity and connection. Maybe not all of them are connections we care to make, but these accounts know what audience they're after and what to serve them each and every day to make them coming back for more. "Follow-for-follow" schemes are a meaningless waste of time.

So, if you do want a large online following, truly hone in on your audience and find what appeals to them. What do they find visually-pleasing? What do they care about? What do they aspire to be? Soon enough, your audience will feel that you simply "get" them, that you're one of theirs. This is how large following are built.

Related: This Is How Social Media (Really) Works in the Trenches

If you are using Instagram – and any other social media platform for that matter – to connect with people in your niche, it will show through and will bring your closer to your audience. So, don't forget that, as with anything in life, you need to strike a balance. Don't get obsessed over like and follower counts, but spend the time creating and maintaining those human connections.

Lesya Liu

Social Media Strategist at The Social Media Current

Lesya Liu helps entrepreneurs create a meaningful and profitable Instagram presence that feels right for their creative businesses. Born and raised in Ukraine, she is a social media strategist and a photographer. Her passion lies in combining art and marketing to create compelling storytelling, both visually and textually. Most days she roams the Interwebs, looking for fresh, inspirational ideas or testing things out on her own social channels.

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