Ever since taking selfies has become a social media norm, debates over its inherent narcissism have spread far and wide among those who are not in favor of the trend. Many believe that people post selfies on social media for nothing other than shallow validation from other people, based in self-indulgent desire. They also complain like this is somehow new and exclusive to this generation, as if people never sat for giant portraits or painted themselves using a mirror (we’re looking at you, Van Gogh). Well, those haters can take a seat. A recent study conducted by the University of California, Irvine, links selfies and happiness together, indicating that the trend isn’t ruining culture as we know it.
According to UC Irvine researchers, taking and sharing happy photos, which can include smiling selfies, can have an uplifting effect on one’s mood. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Well-Being, monitored 41 college students over four weeks. At the beginning of the first week, students gave a preliminary general interview, and were introduced to a smartphone app used for documenting their moods three times a day over the following month. The students went through their usual routine during the first week.
For the last three weeks, they were divided into three groups that each had a different daily task to perform along with reporting their general mood. One group had to take a smiling selfie, another took a photo of something that made them happy, and the third took a photo of something that would make someone else happy to send to that person.
When researchers analyzed the students’ moods over time, they found that participants from all three groups became generally happier. But they noticed certain patterns as well. For example, students who sent photos to other people tended to feel more connected to that person, which was usually a significant other or a family member, and felt calmer overall. Those who took photos of things that made them feel happy reported feeling more “mindful, reflective, and appreciative.”
However, it was reported that people who took selfies didn’t just experience a more positive mood, which many of them did. Some participants also noted that they felt more confident and developed a more natural smile as time passed. “As days went on, I got more comfortable taking photos of myself,” one participant explained in her exit interview. “If you feel good about yourself, then [a] selfie would be a way to capture that.” So selfies can promote a more long-standing amount of happiness than initially presumed.
Although this study should be considered with a grain of salt due to the small size of 41 participants, it promotes a new idea about why selfies are so popular. Partly because it goes against many, MANY articles that focus on the negatives of technology, choosing to study the positive applications of smartphone photography. “You see a lot of reports in the media about the negative impacts of technology use. … I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users,” said senior author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics, in a press release. It definitely opens up the realm of discussion for this particular social media trend, proving it’s not as shallow as it seems.
If you still don’t like selfies, fine. Don’t take them. The rest of us will continue posting on Instagram, thank you very much. But if you’ve never taken one, give it a try sometime. You may find yourself feeling a little happier.