Scientists know 40% of our personal happiness levels are accounted for by our daily activities (50% genes & upbringing, 10% income & environment). So our lifestyle, the relationships we have and the habits we keep, significantly affect our happiness.
We live in a hectic digital age where it’s impossible to avoid technology; iPhones, laptops, tablets and digital TV are an all-encompassing part of our daily routines. We’re addicted to notifications, checking our phones at any free moment and at the mercy of emails, checking them last thing at night (from our tranquil beds!) and first thing in the morning straight after we’ve switched off the alarm (our lovers don’t stand a chance!). Pressured to ‘show face’ on social media and regularly finding ourselves watch TV whilst navigating multiple Whatsapps and browsing Facebook on our iPads.
Like it or not, we are all utterly addicted to technology, in fact, the average smartphone user now checks their phone a whopping 150 times a day!
Unsurprisingly, these addictive digital habits are affecting our mental health and suppressing happiness. Millennials are struggling to sleep and suffering from higher cases of anxiety and social isolation than ever before. We are left over stimulated, wound up and totally disconnected from our spirituality.
But if 40% of our happiness levels are influenced by our daily activities, the good news is that with a few small changes to some of our unhealthy digital habits, we have a really good chance of becoming happier.
Let’s start by breaking down the building blocks of happiness using the PERMA model. Created by Positive Psychology Professor Martin Seligman, the model outlines the 5 key areas we must nurture, in order to feel happy –
- POSITIVE EMOTION (P)
- ENGAGEMENT (E)
- RELATIONSHIPS (R)
- MEANING (M)
- ACCOMPLISHMENT (A)
So how are our unhealthy digital habits affecting each area? And what can we do to break them?
1. POSITIVE EMOTIONS (P)
According to a National Sleep Foundation study, 95% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their phones right next to their beds and a further 60% experience problems sleeping. The self-luminous display light emitted from phones and tablets is a major cause for concern, as a study from the Lighting Research Centre proved exposure to this artificial light before bed caused melatonin suppression – a hormone that regulates our body clock and tells us it’s nighttime.
If we’re glued to our phones before bed, of course we’re going to have trouble falling asleep. And a lack of sleep contributes to depression, mood swings and increased anxiety – the polar opposite to positive emotion!
Boost your chances of a good night’s kip and implement a digital curfew. Switch off all technology at least one hour (ideally two) before bedtime and benefit from the wonders of sleep zzzzzz…
2. ENGAGEMENT (E)
When we’re fully engaged in a challenging task, time stands still and we experience a state of flow. We lose our sense of self and are completely immersed in the present (and I’m not talking about mindlessly stalking facebook then realising half an hour has passed by!). Flow helps us feel good, boosts our self-esteem and creates positive, satisfying emotions.
The more we can engage in flow, the more likely we are to experience wellbeing. However, technology inhibits our flow because of its distractive tendencies.
Most of us work with our phones by our desk, drawing boards or laptops, if not in our pockets, so it’s very easy to be interrupted by the constant buzz and flash of new notifications.
Try to break this bad habit and work with your phone in another room. You could put it in your coat pocket or keep it zipped in your bag under your desk. This is a very simple, yet effective way of reducing the temptation to answer the constant stream of interruptions.
3. RELATIONSHIPS (R)
Connecting with others, having meaningful and loving relationships is core to our happiness. Humans are social animals, so deep and intimate relationships are incredibly important to our survival and wellbeing. We must therefore take care of our relationships and really give them the time and attention they deserve.
Yet you’ll probably have noticed the amount of friends in restaurants who are far more interested in taking pictures of their food and posting them to Instagram, than actually talking to each other. And we’ve all been guilty of checking emails over Sunday lunch with the family or aimlessly browsing Facebook late at night whilst in bed with our lovers.
Try switching your phone off altogether when you’re out at social engagements. Just be with those around you and those around you alone. They are enough. Engage face-to-face; give them your undivided attention, listen, look them in the eye and rediscover the power of intimacy. You’ll soon remember just how precious it is to be alive and human and experience a feeling that no digital device will ever give you.
4. MEANING (M)
Finding purpose in our lives outside of ourselves and serving a bigger cause helps us to feel happy. Giving back to our local communities through voluntary work, taking food to a local food bank or perhaps being part of a local residents association brings a sense of meaning to our lives, and reminds us that we are part of something bigger. So much more than just our own thoughts. When you expand the mind to the problems of the bigger, wider community, your own become much smaller and inconsequential.
Why not refuel the power of human compassion, put your phones down and go out into your communities? Volunteer your time in person and I can guarantee you will feel your happiness flourish.
5. ACCOMPLISHMENT (A)
Whether learning a new skill, winning a competitive event or setting ourselves a challenging personal goal. Through accomplishment, we feel a sense of satisfaction and a boost in our self worth. Often digital technology can actually help with learning a new skill or keeping a new training programme on track, but it can also prevent us from making progress because of the constant distraction and attention it demands.
You could try giving up social media on the weekends, or if that sounds too drastic, perhaps start with just a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Instead dedicate the time to a new or existing hobby, trial that recipe or learn something new and really benefit from the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel afterwards.
So why not make a date with yourself this week and spend some time assessing your life? Use the PERMA Model to locate happiness black spots and think about the influence technology has on each area of your life.