Tuesday January 21, 2014 | 08:00 AM
Posted by Rob Gould

Have you ever just had one of those days? One of those days where nothing seems to go your way? We all have them. I just survived, "one of those months." My month from hell began in late November and finally shifted right before Christmas. Anyway, I think that many of you can also probably relate to the feeling of having "one of those days (or months)" and then, at the same time, having to see many of your connections on social media seemingly having the time of their lives. It's not a great feeling. Except for the other people, of course.

Due to my profession, I spend much of my time friending, liking, tweeting, and following. In the scarce moments left, I try develop actual real-life friendships. Yet sadly, despite all my efforts, I probably have fewer friends than most of my friends. And, most of them are probably happier and have more money than me too. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Can anyone relate?

Do not fret. If it makes you feel any better, the same is true for almost all of us. Our friends are typically more popular, richer and happier than we are. Enter the "friendship paradox."

The friendship paradox is the empirical observation that your friends have more friends than you do. Now network scientists say your friends are probably wealthier and happier, too.

The friendship paradox tells us that your friends will always have more friends than you do. Now network scientists have expanded the paradox to include traits other than social success, like wealth and hapiness. Really, your friends are blessed and you should consider yourself richer (in free dinners mooched off of them) and happier (by stealing their Prozac) by just possessing them as friends.

And if the smart people at MIT tell us it's true, then it must be true ...

Back in 1991, the sociologist Scott Feld made a surprising discovery while studying the properties of social networks. Feld calculated the average number of friends that a person in the network has and compared this to the average number of friends that these friends had.

Against all expectations it turned out that the second number is always bigger than the first. Or in other words, your friends have more friends than you do.

Researchers have since observed the so-called friendship paradox in a wide variety of situations. On Facebook, your friends will have more friends than you have. On Twitter, your followers will have more followers than you do. And in real life, your sexual partners will have had more partners than you’ve had. At least, on average.

Network scientists have long known that this paradoxical effect is the result of the topology of networks—how they are connected together. That’s why similar networks share the same paradoxical properties.MIT Technology Review

At first this shocking news left me feeling slightly depressed. Like a big, fat loser. But, then I felt slightly relieved. I mean, this makes all of my friends winners, right? It also has to mean that I have really good taste in friends. Either that of I'm desperate to be socially successful and have more sex via osmosis. One of those things.

This again from the MIT Technology Review:

That has significant implications for the way people perceive themselves given that their friends will always seem happier, wealthier and more popular than they are. And the problem is likely to be worse in networks where this is easier to see. “This might be the reason why active online social networking service users are not happy,” say researchers, referring to other research that has found higher levels of unhappiness among social network users.

So, is my social networking actually making me more unhappy? Do you feel unhappy when you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr? Personally, I think the answer to true happiness is to post more selfies. Trust me, I speak from experience.

IMAGE CREDIT: MIT Technology Review


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Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.

About the Author

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).

Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg

His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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