Hashtagging happiness

The newest trend is posting happy things on social media. But does it work?

Melanie Richtman

Our world revolves around the idea that happiness is the ultimate goal.

Ironically, actively trying to achieve a blissful state tends to make people unhappy — or at least, that’s what studies have shown.

As a result, a new trend is promoting focusing on the small, everyday things that make people happy, rather than the grand idea of happiness. And naturally, social media is involved.

“It’s a way to validate that they are happy. They just needed to document it first,” said Shayla Thiel-Stern, a University of Minnesota journalism professor specializing in social media and culture. “If you didn’t post it, it didn’t happen — or even if you post it and it doesn’t get any likes, then it didn’t happen.”

There are social media challenges, such as 100 Happy Days, where users post a picture of something that makes them happy every day for 100 days with the hashtag #100HappyDays. The posts are often as simple as eating jelly beans, seeing a smiling child or listening to the new Beyoncé album.

In 2012, a social media platform named Happier was founded by Nataly Kogan, who was confused by her lack of happiness, even though she was professionally successful and in a loving marriage.

“If you only focus on the big events that make you happy, which are usually few and far between, it’s easy to perceive the world as being a negative place,” said undeclared sophomore Brianna Smith, who is currently participating in the 100 Happy Days challenge. “I wanted to see if I’m capable of finding something good each day.” 

The idea behind 100 Happy Days and Happier is that people don’t take the time to appreciate all the little things — according to the logic, taking time to acknowledge the small things will increase happiness.

“People focus so much time and energy on the negative aspects of their lives,” English junior Terry Niebeling said. “I think focusing time and energy on anything positive can affect you in a beneficial way. That’s why I decided to do the 100 Happy Days challenge.”

People who have completed the challenge claim to have been happier by the end of it, but there could be risks associated with professing how great your life is via social media — at least, for those witnessing your happy life.

“Social comparison theory states that seeing other people’s posts makes you want more in your own life,” Thiel-Stern said. “A person would repeatedly see images like this and feel like they are coming up short, even knowing that the images are filtered and framed in a certain way.”

To address that issue, the 100 Happy Days challenge offers an option to privately email pictures, rather than post them publicly. The caveat is that by keeping pictures private, participants won’t get likes, shares and retweets, and so they might not feel as fulfilled by the challenge.

“Dopamine is released when you see that someone interacts with your post. It actually gives you a rush,” Thiel-Stern said. “It’s an action that you want to repeat because it brings you happiness.”

That dopamine rush can become addictive. And if a post doesn’t get any likes, favorites or other interactions, disappointment can result.

While the act of recognizing what causes happiness is one thing, the need for approval and feelings of inadequacy can be counterintuitive.

“It might give people the illusion that they are happy because there is physical proof and, even better, people like their physical proof,” Thiel-Stern said. “Maybe that means you are truly happy. It’s very existential.”