How your family can be happier

A lot of people in the rich part of the world are unhappy. The reason for (some) of their happiness is now pretty evident – it’s our addiction to screens. To be a little more precise it’s our addiction to screens as our primary form of entertainment and interaction that is affecting life satisfaction. Too much of a good thing and all that.

The two main culprits being the smartphone and the TV. As Jean Twenge says about her research into this:

In other words, every activity that didn’t involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness. The differences were considerable: Teens who spent more than five hours a day online were twice as likely to be unhappy as those who spent less than an hour a day.

First observation is this: FIVE HOURS A DAY?!!!!  Anyway.

Too much screen time is ultimately isolating and loneliness is damaging to people designed to be social. I’ve written previously how smartphones have ruined a generation and how not to be a slave to technology, because I think it’s a key area where we need to apply some wisdom.

Yet the answer for you and your family is not really that hard or difficult. But you have to understand the business of smartphones and TV.

First let’s take phones. A smartphone is never really about the phone, it’s about the apps. If all we wanted was a phone we’d go back to the pre-smartphone days but we can do more and we quite like it. I deeply value being able to sort out parking with my phone, schedule meetings, access my work, communicate with groups, learn a language, listen to audiobooks and podcasts all on my phone. It’s amazing, I’m in favour of it.

But at the end of the day people make money from how much time you spend with an app. They want you to keep using and keep coming back and they employ lots of very effective tricks to get you to do just that. WIRED, a magazine all about technology, recently published The Formula for Phone Addiction Might Double As a Cure that explains this process.

Two simple steps for liberating you from addictive phone use:

  1. Delete social media from your phone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever (it made a huge difference for me).
  2. Turn off your notifications.

That’s it, in days you’ll find you treat your phone very differently. So let’s turn to the TV. They have the same basic business model as the phone, the more you use it, the more money they make either in advertising or subscriptions. Two simple steps again:

  1. Track your usage. Until you see it, you won’t think it’s an issue.
  2. Use the off switch.

As Twenge says,

If you wanted to give advice based on this research, it would be very simple: Put down your phone or tablet and go do something – just about anything – else.

Although interestingly it’s not ‘no use’ – it’s not ‘no TV’ or ‘no smartphones’ – it’s about having the control to switch off and engage differently.

Somewhat surprisingly, we found that teens who didn’t use digital media at all were actually a little less happy than those who used digital media a little bit (less than an hour a day). Happiness was then steadily lower with more hours of use. Thus, the happiest teens were those who used digital media, but for a limited amount of time.

The answer, then, is not to give up technology entirely. Instead, the solution is a familiar adage: everything in moderation. Use your phone for all the cool things it’s good for. And then set it down and go do something else.

You might be happier for it.

All of this reminded me of a classic example (ironically enough) of British TV from my childhood.

It’s good advice.

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