Selfies Promote Happiness

You might have been hoping that it was just a phase society was going through, but it turns out that all those people who snap selfies of themselves on their smartphones are actually happier than you.

By conducting exercises via smartphone photo technology and gauging users’ psychological and emotional states, researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that the daily taking and sharing of certain types of images can positively affect people.

“Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it,” said lead author Yu Chen, a postdoctoral scholar in UCI’s Department of Informatics.

Of course it's high school and college students – the so-called “millennials” – who engage in selfie-snapping the most, but the scientists say that's a Good Thing. Students are subject to numerous “stressors,” such as being away from home for the first time, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and the rigors of coursework – all of which can impact their academic performance and lead to depression. Since most students carry smartphones, Chen reasons, they are pre-equipped for stress relief.

The project involved taking three types of photos: selfies, an image of something designed to make the photographer happy, and a picture designed to bring happiness to another person. This last was then sent to that other person. Participants included 28 female and 13 male volunteers, and the researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements from the group during the course of the month-long study.

Some participants in the selfie group indicated that they had grown more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. Students in the group that took photos of objects reported they became became more reflective and appreciative. Students in the third group who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

“You see a lot of reports in the media about the negative impacts of technology use, and we look very carefully at these issues here at UCI,” said senior author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics. “But there have been expanded efforts over the past decade to study what’s become known as ‘positive computing,’ and I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users.”

The study has been published in the The Psychology of Well-Being.