Just 60 comments from close friends in a month -- two comments per day -- can impact your feelings of well-being and satisfaction with life just as much as getting married or having a baby, suggests new research.
What really makes people feel good is when those they know and care about write personalised posts or comments. Passively reading posts or one-click feedback such as "likes" do not make much of a difference, the findings showed.
"It turns out that when you talk with a little more depth on Facebook to people you already like, you feel better," said one of the researchers Robert Kraut, Professor at Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
"That also happens when people talk in person," Kraut noted.
The study, published by the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, was based on 1,910 Facebook users from 91 countries who were recruited with Facebook ads.
Each agreed to take a monthly survey for three months.
By considering mood and behaviour over time, the study revealed that Facebook interactions with friends predicted improvements in such measures of well-being as satisfaction with life, happiness, loneliness and depression.
"We're not talking about anything that's particularly labor-intensive," Moira Burke, a research scientist at Facebook who earned a PhD. in human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said.
"This can be a comment that's just a sentence or two. The important thing is that someone such as a close friend takes the time to personalise it. The content may be uplifting, and the mere act of communication reminds recipients of the meaningful relationships in their lives," Burke noted.
The findings run counter to many previous studies based on user surveys, which often have shown that time spent on social media is associated with a greater likelihood of loneliness and depression.
"You're left to wonder -- is it that unhappy people are using social media, or is social media affecting happiness?" Kraut said.
The new study was able to resolve this "chicken-or-egg" dilemma by using Facebook logs to examine counts of participants' actual Facebook activity over a period of months.
The new findings suggests that people who are feeling down may indeed spend more time on social media, but they choose to do so because they have learned it makes them feel better, Burke said.
"They're reminded of the people they care about in their lives," Burke noted.