On its worst days, social media can be a hyperactive negativity cloud, distracting your attention from work and even, according to some experts, worsening your health. But others say that Facebook and Twitter can actually make us happier, as long as we steer clear of its pitfalls. But unless you’re headed to an ashram for an extended stay or currently live in a cave, we’re guessing you won’t be ditching your Facebook or Twitter accounts anytime soon. So here are five ways to make sure you’re making the most of your time on social media – and possibly even improve your overall health while you’re at it:
1. Follow people and organizations you actually care about.
Many of us are drawn to following celebrity accounts and watching Hollywood’s latest train wreck unravel on our own Tweetdeck (ahem, @charliesheen). But make Twitter worth your time by following people and organizations you really care about, not by chasing the latest memes. Follow the people you’re friends with, and people you’d like to be your friends. Look for mentors, and people who inform and inspire you with their tweets. The same goes for organizations and businesses; follow people, places, and publications that are doing things you’d like to do, and are Tweeting about it.
2. Use your social media powers for good, not evil.
It sounds cheesy, but make Twitter a happy place. No one wants to read 140-character rants about your petty annoyances. (Really, they don’t; data show that negative remarks yield you fewer followers.) Try to contribute something meaningful to your followers’ feeds, and avoid the temptation to snark on others or cyberstalk. Yes, your ex is on Facebook and tagged in a photo with his/her new love. No, you won’t feel better emotionally if you visit his/her page. Trust us on this one.
3. Don’t just “listen.”
If you’re a wallflower in real life, social media is a chance to share your interests and personality without the shaky-knee syndrome. It’s also a place for easy interactions with people – often about more personal experiences and ideas – that you may not have face-to-face. Be part of the conversation; don’t just eavesdrop. Start with something as simple as “liking” an organization or re-Tweeting someone’s link. Productive communication leads to better mental health.
4. Spread good news – and good content.
You’re a unique and wonderful person, but no one wants to hear about what time you brushed your teeth this morning. Sharing good content — not just the ins-and-outs of your daily life — adds real value to your Facebook or Twitter account and elevates conversation. Share an thought-provoking article, song, or even the good volunteer work of friends and family. Bonus points if it’s not something everyone has already seen.
5. Stand up for something.
Don’t shy away from getting political online. While we don’t necessarily recommend displaying our entire personal lives or convictions to the entire world, are we going to speak out in support of Planned Parenthood? Hell, yes. Sure, your views are more likely than not to annoy someone who disagrees with you, but so what? Life’s a lot healthier (and hopefully happier) with different opinions.