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Why Does Everyone Else Seem to Be Having More Fun?

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On most subjective and socially desirable dimensions, we tend to exhibit self-serving bias. We perceive ourselves as more moral than most others, healthier than others, more productive at work, better able to get along with others, and even better drivers. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I love me? Let me count the ways.”

 

But most of us also experience a different sort of social misperception that’s biased in the opposite direction. First, a question: Who goes to more parties—you or others?

 

Across 11 studies, Cornell University’s Sebastian Deri and his colleagues found that university students, mall shoppers, and online respondents perceived others’ social lives to be more active than their own duller life. Other folks, it seems, party more, dine out more, and have more friends and fun.

 

Can you imagine why most people perceive their social lives as comparatively inactive?    

 

Our social perceptions, according to the Deri team, suffer from biased information availability. We compare ourselves not to social reality but to what’s mentally accessible. We hear more about our friends’ activities than we do about the nonevents of their lives. If Alexis goes to a party, we’re more likely to hear about that than if she sits home looking over her toes at the TV.

 

Social media amplifies our sense of social disadvantage. People post selfies while out having fun—which we may browse while sitting home alone. Thus, our normal self-serving perceptions are overcome by a powerful social exposure bias.

 

The others-are-having-more-fun finding joins reports by Jean Twenge and her collaborators that the spread of smart phones and social media have precisely paralleled a recent increase in teen loneliness, depression, and suicide. Twenge reports that

Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

 

Does your life seem pallid compared to all the fun others seem to be having?  Do you believe you are not one of the socially active “cool” people? Does your romantic life seem comparatively unexciting? Do you wish you could have as many friends as others seem to?

 

Well, be consoled: most of your friends feel the same way.

 

As Teddy Roosevelt long ago surmised, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

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About the Author
David Myers received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org). For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.