Book Review | The Happiness Effect

Despite running a blog for the past two years, I kind of hate social media. I update my blog accounts far more often than my personal accounts, simply because it’s anonymous, and it’s easier. There is less pressure. But I do still feel the pressure that comes with social media, and I hate that it’s one of the things that’s come to define my generation. So I was very intrigued by Donna Freitas’s newest book, in which she explores the impact of social media on our everyday lives.


(From Goodreads) Sexting. Cyberbullying. Narcissism. Social media has become the dominant force in young people’s lives, and each day seems to bring another shocking tale of private pictures getting into the wrong hands, or a lament that young people feel compelled to share their each and every thought with the entire world. Have smartphones and social media created a generation of self-obsessed egomaniacs?
Absolutely not, Donna Freitas argues in this provocative book. And, she says, these alarmist fears are drawing attention away from the real issues that young adults are facing.

Drawing on a large-scale survey and interviews with students on thirteen college campuses, Freitas finds that what young people are overwhelmingly concerned with–what they really want to talk about–is happiness. They face enormous pressure to look perfect online–not just happy, but blissful, ecstatic, and fabulously successful. Unable to achieve this impossible standard, they are anxious about letting the less-than-perfect parts of themselves become public. Far from wanting to share everything, they are brutally selective when it comes to curating their personal profiles, and worry obsessively that they might unwittingly post something that could come back to haunt them later in life. Through candid conversations with young people from diverse backgrounds, Freitas
reveals how even the most well-adjusted individuals can be stricken by self-doubt when they compare their experiences with the vast collective utopia that they see online. And sometimes, as on anonymous platforms like Yik Yak, what they see instead is a depressing cesspool of racism and misogyny. Yet young people are also extremely attached to their smartphones and apps, which sometimes bring them great pleasure. It is very much a love-hate relationship.

While much of the public’s attention has been focused on headline-grabbing stories, the everyday struggles and joys of young people have remained under the radar. Freitas brings their feelings to the fore, in the words of young people themselves. The Happiness Effect is an eye-opening window into their first-hand experiences of social media and its impact on them.


The Happiness Effect was a very interesting read. It expressed a lot of the feelings and worries that I have with social media: the importance we place on likes, how our self-worth is oftentimes tied into how what we post online is received, why social media connects us constantly but still contributes to our sense of loneliness. I’m guilty of it, and I don’t use social media nearly as much as other people I know. It’s generally an unhealthy environment, and one I’m definitely wary of.

I enjoyed seeing the different perspectives in this book. For example, I’ve never been a part of the Greek system, so it was interesting to see how closely their social media use is monitored, and how it plays into their social status in a more concrete way. I was part of the generation who grew up with social media, but I’ve always been a late adopter, because I feel I’m more cautious. I’m aware of who I am online, and what others are able to access. And I hate the idea of my whole life being accessible to others, and of my personal feelings being affected too much by how others react to me on the internet.

I do feel like this book would be a great book for people who might not think too deeply about social media – it might open their eyes to the ways in which it’s actually affecting them. For me, there wasn’t really too much new material in this book. Most of it was made up of student interviews; there was very little actual analysis, which I wanted more of. It was enlightening, but, personally, I could have benefited just as much had it been an article, rather than a 350+ page book.



Overall, I liked this book. I think it is beneficial for those who may not be as cautious or introspective when using social media (there are plenty of people I think should read this book). I think it’s a great book for someone who doesn’t usually read about the effects of social media. However, I did think it was a little repetitive (many of the interviews said basically the same things), and I wanted more of the psychology behind social media, rather than just what the interviewed college students are saying, at face value.

If you’re interested in reading this book, definitely give it a shot. And if you have read it, feel free to share your thoughts below!

What is your approach to social media? Do you think it has any effect on your happiness? Do you compare yourself to others, or do you try to avoid it?

The Happiness Effect is available starting today – February 1 – from Oxford University Press. You can get your copy here!

This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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