The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Look Perfect at Any Cost

Updated: Jan 4

The cover of the book The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas
The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas

The Happiness Effect, written by Donna Freitas, is a book that dives into the effects social media has on the current generation and the image it is constantly trying to portray. Freitas does this by conducting multiple different interviews and surveys within different college campuses which seems like the heart of where your answers to social media effects and usage would come from. The interviews were supplemented by a huge survey of the college students on their habits and views on social media. While this is a majority of the book, there are also areas where Freitas dips into what parents and adults can do to help this generation attain a much less toxic and more of a healthy relationship with the social media around us today. She covers issues such as comparisons in the media, obtaining and maintaining an image, sex, bullying, religion etc.

As a college student myself, the interviews from other college students within the book were very interesting. I thought it was an interesting approach used by Freitas that was not only very forward, but very real giving her the answers she was looking for. It’s clear that while we are all stuck in this realm of a life consumed by social media, part of us hates it, especially the current generation. It has become a chore in some respects, rather than the source of entertainment or genuine enjoyment it was created to give. There is this constant pressure dangling over our heads like a dark cloud to pick the type of image we want and stick to it. While the image we pick to gain influence from is usually one that is relatable, it is also one that should scream happiness, even if we, maybe, truly aren’t. I think it is scary that we all have these feelings and outlooks on social media in a way but never truly let it out. Almost as if we know we can’t escape it so why even bother? The only users mentioned in this book with a genuinely happy approach were users who were of Christian faith. They felt social media is a platform in which to share and educate other on the values of their religion which is something they are passionate about bringing them genuine happiness. Why do we feel we need to mask everything behind a characteristic? Is it so that we don’t feel less about ourselves for possibly being in a different stage of life than others who are feeling genuine happiness and success and we aren’t? Or is it the worry of the judgement that comes when the image slightly slips nor isn’t real, not only from the outsiders, but from our own selves as well.

Freitas shares how she feels there is nothing wrong with the media itself, but rather the way young adults use it and that they were not taught how to use it correctly.

Also, how if we used social media in a better way, it would improve overall. If it were that simple, wouldn’t there already have been a little improvement stemming from the people with that same mentality? As if being in your adolescent years is not already harsh and full of pressure enough, now we are forced to act as though we are happy and successful to others around us meanwhile our lives may actually feel like they are falling apart. It is clear throughout the book that Freitas herself is trying to piece together, in multiple aspects, the reason for this gravitation pull on a generation, how its effecting them, where it came from, and any thing anyone can do to solve the problem. One of the most common phrases I hear throughout our generation today is, “Don’t believe everything you see on your screen, things can be much different behind closed doors or in real life.” This usually come from an adult. It’s like its used as a reminder to lift a little pressure off our shoulders and make us feel better about our day to day lives. A generation so invested in portraying happiness through a screen is forgetting to look for it, and actually feel it, in real life.

Freitas, D., & Smith, C. (2019). The happiness effect: How social media is driving a generation to appear perfect at any cost. Oxford University Press.


Francesca McCaffrey is a third year college student growing up in the generation

where social media holds more power than really anything else. After reading the book, McCaffery says, “I have fallen victim to the extreme attachment our

generation has to social media, it’s almost impossible not to. The constant worry of what I post, how I do it, and who likes it is something that has become a rush, which is very shallow. Being a young adult in this era, you are prone to live an aspect of your life through a screen hoping it portrays the image you want it to even if that’s not really what is happening. I feel trapped in social media sometimes craving and scrounging for real life interactions and being able to take in adventures without having to whip out my iPhone to take pictures and post it. The way any addiction strings you along so powerfully you begin to lag in life, social media is an addiction of the same nature for many, including myself. This read made me feel like I’m not alone in this generation, and maybe there is some hope for it after all. Realizing the problem is the first step, right?”

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