Is technology killing happiness?
It’s not just Millennials feeling this way. Six percent of U.S. employees have actually checked their work email while they or their spouse were in labor! In fact, the average American turns their phone on 46 times per day.
Simply put, technology has become an essential part of our daily lives. Because of these stats it’s clear that technology has to have some sort of influence on our happiness. But, is that good or bad?
How Technology Influences Happiness
In 2012, Stanford University conducted a study that wanted to answer how happiness and emotional development was affected by technology. They begin by reviewing the online habits of girls ages 8 to 12.
The peer-reviewed study found that those who “spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens.”
However, the researchers did point out that because this research “was based on an online survey taken by more than 3,400 girls, a sample that may well not be representative of the larger population. Questions may exist because the responses are self-reported and are not subject to follow-up or verification by the researchers.”
Also in 2012, the University of Gothenburg, Sweden found that “intensive use of cell phones and computers can be linked to an increase in stress, sleep disorders and depressive symptoms in young adults.”
A more recent study from the University of Illinois found similar results to the previous university studies. “People who self-described themselves as having a really addictive-style behaviors toward the Internet and cellphones scored much higher on depression and anxiety scales,” said U. of I. psychology professor Alejandro Lleras.
The Negative Impact of Social Media
In 2015, researchers at Nanyang Technological University, Bradley University and the University of Missouri Columbia found that heavy Facebook users can experience envy. As a result of this envy, it can lead to extreme sadness.
“If Facebook is used to see how well an acquaintance is doing financially or how happy an old friend is in his relationship, these are know things that cause envy among users. This type of usage of the site can lead to feelings of depression,” said Margaret Duffy, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
However, that doesn’t mean that social media usage makes us unhappy all of the time or unhappy even much of the time.
“Facebook can be a very positive resource for many people, but if it is used as a way to size up one’s own accomplishments against others, it can have a negative effect.
It is important for Facebook users to be aware of these risks so they can avoid this kind of behavior when using Facebook,” added Duffy.
“We shouldn’t be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones. The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored,” Lleras said. “This should go toward soothing some of that public anxiety over new technology.”
Technology Can Be Positive
While technology can lead to negative feelings, it can also inspire happiness and connection. Happify, a website dedicated to helping people build skills for happiness through science-based activities and games, created an infographic that illustrated the benefits of technology:
- 90% of online users reported that the internet has been good for them personally.
- 56% stated that they’ve seen an online group come together to help a person or community feel better or solve a problem.
- 46% reported that the internet has made them more productive.
- 67% said that online communication with friends and family has generally strengthened those relationships.
Additionally, the website found social media users don’t feel as isolated. They are more likely to get support from their social ties. Others report that they feel better about themselves after after visiting their Facebook profile.
Additionally, Amy Blankson, one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between positive psychology and technology, writes in her book The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the digital Era, that, “Sometimes tech is fun just for the sake of the endorphin rush and the dopamine boost.”
Using Technology Intentionally
“Tech is not a toxin that we need to flush out of our systems—it’s a tool,” writes Blankson. “And it’s a tool that we must learn to wield effectively.”
As a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and college psychology instructor, Amy Morin recommends five exercises that will train your brain for happiness and success:
- Differentiate between ruminating and problem-solving. Morin recommends consciously determining if you are ruminating or problem-solving. This distracts the brain from thinking about the wrong things for any extended time.
- Give yourself the same advice you’d give to a trusted friend. Think about how you support your friends or give them positive reinforcement and speak to yourself the same way.
- Label your emotions. Identify your feelings and consider how those emotions can affect your decisions.
- Balance your emotions with logic. Create a pros and cons list for your choices. This takes some of the emotion out of the equation. Better decision-making results.
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude can lead to happiness if you make it a habit to talk about what you appreciate. You can also write in a gratitude journal before bed. Download apps like Gratitude Journal for iOS or Android to make this easy.
Create a Habitat for Happiness
Happiness comes when we make room for it. Therefore, Blankson recommends that you:
- Clear out physical clutter to make space for incoming technology. Use sites like e-stewards.org so that can recycle and upcycle old tech so that you don’t have a “tech-graveyard.”
- Eliminate digital clutter to help eliminate distractions. Services like unroll.me can help you unsubscribe from the unnecessary notifications you receive in your inbox.
- Bring meaning back into the office. “Many individuals make the mistake of just trying to slog through work until they can get home to their “real life.”However, research is revealing that investing in your personal space at work is beneficial to your happiness and health, and it can also increase your productivity by 15 percent.”Look for “little ways to connect your home life with your work life, whether through photos and art on the walls or something more transportable like a day planner.For an extra boost, bring a plant to work to lower stress, reduce blood pressure, and feel more attentive.”
- Set invisible boundaries to guard your focus and quality time. “The average smartphone user opens and closes their phone 150 times a day. If it takes one minute to check your phone each time, that takes up 2.5 hours of your day! It’s time to get this habit under control.” You can download an app like Break Free to see how much you open and close your phone every day. After that, you can use a distraction-free timer in order to get your phone addiction and email checking under control.
This may take some discipline, but Blankson suggests that we need to know when to use technology. For example, putting down our phones or laptops during a conversation with a colleague at work or when spending quality time with friends or family.
Use Technology to Improve Relationships
However, you can use technology to bring you closer to others, like sharing moment of gratitude on social media or apps like Random App of Kindness (RAKi) that promote empathy.
Blankson also states that technology users usually fall into one of three camps; Embracers, who are on the cutting edge of technology; Accepters, who simply along with mainstream trends; and Resistors, who can’t, or don’t, want to adopt certain tech.
By knowing which camp you fall into can help you decide if you really need to purchase the newest gadgets. You can determine if you will download the latest project management software.
Technology helps us stay in touch with a wider range of people and loved ones in far off places. However, nothing beats face-to-face relationships – our partners, parents, children and closest friends.” Dr. Williamson recommends prioritizing the people you are with over the gadgets in our hand.
While technology can play a role in happiness – some futurists even believe that someday “mood bots” can be ingested and then “travel directly to specific areas of the brain. These bots would be able to flip on genes, and manually turn up or down our happiness set point.”
As Andrew Heikkila, perfectly puts in an article for TechCrunch, “Happiness is hard, but it’s everywhere. No, there is no quick technological fix for it, and yes, you have to work at it somewhat. Drugs won’t fix it. Money won’t either.”
Yet, happiness is walking along the street, reading in a coffee shop, sitting on a subway. We find true happiness in connections with others. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a shared laugh or short interaction. It can be a “thank you” or a pay-it-forward moment that we create or experience.