Don’t Let Facebook Dictate How You Feel

By Kathy Lu The Kansas City Star.

A friend's New Year's greeting arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. He apologized for the delay in the note, but I didn't mind. I'm a procrasti-card sender myself.

Though I know it's coming every year, I don't start thinking about the holiday/New Year's card until Dec. 15. Then it becomes a constant nag, get the right photos, choose a design, write the message that's beyond perfunctory but below gushing.

Finally, if all goes well, I'm sitting down six weeks later to address the envelopes.

This year, especially because my family just moved halfway across the country from a place where I had lived for nearly two decades, that task evoked a new feeling.

As I addressed the cards, it made me appreciate each of the people on the mailing list. Though not everyone was a close friend (and some names may eventually fall off the list as new ones are added), seeing and writing their names made me think of our friendship and the shared moments that moved me to add them to the list.

It reminded me of a story I heard on public radio about how Facebook users can be depressed by what they see on the social media service.

In an interview, a 20-something woman said scrolling through her Facebook friends' updates started to upset her because all she saw were either photos of wonderful trips her friends had taken or the delicious food they had eaten.

Not having as much disposable income herself, the posts just seemed to rub that in. Then the story mentioned studies that showed how people who engaged more on Facebook, by commenting, by liking things, were less likely to feel this way than Facebook voyeurs.

Sending my cards made me think about life before Facebook, when you really had no idea what was happening in distant friends' lives. You certainly weren't distressed by what they have eaten or where they have gone.

Actively writing the names and addresses also made me pay a little extra attention to each recipient, though I haven't seen some in more than a year. One would even find out about my move via the card (and chide me about it, as he should have, in a letter that arrived weeks later).

Don't get me wrong. It's great that I can get real-time updates from my Facebook friends, and chances are I would find out about one of them moving long before getting any card in the mail. But it did take some time for me to put Facebook postings in perspective; though news flows through my feed all day long, I'm the one who controls how much I want to read.

Later, I came across a story that highlighted a November 2012 TED Talk by researcher Matt Killingsworth, who built an app called Track Your Happiness that gathers data on real-time happiness.

His presentation focused on the idea that "A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind." That when people are focused on the present, that's when they feel happiest.

On the TED Talk site, there is much debate over Killingsworth's research data and methods and how he defines happiness.

The emotion is a hot topic these days, with Pharrell's "Happy" from "Despicable Me 2" getting an Oscar nomination. Though he didn't win, his performance of the song at the March 2 ceremony got the A-list celebrities to dance in their gowns and tuxes. His music video has been viewed more than 89 million times.

Is there a connection between happiness and engagement?

I don't know, but I do know this: When I am making a pair of earrings or beading a necklace, my mind cannot wander and I feel peace.

When I am editing, writing or reporting a story, my mind is focused and I feel purpose.

And when I address envelopes to send cards to friends, I feel love.

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