How many times a day do you look at your phone? Start counting and the number may depress you. According to Time magazine, the average person looks at his or her phone 46 times a day. (Full article here.)
As a Technology Coordinator, it might surprise you that I strongly support limiting screen time. Study after study shows that time spent in front of devices like smartphones and tablets directly impacts your happiness. In summary, more time spent on Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, text messaging, and other online forms of communication makes you feel sadder, less satisfied with your life, and interestingly, more lonely.
Even more alarming, The Atlantic just published an article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” which underscores the detrimental impact screens have taken on post-millennials. This generation doesn’t date, doesn’t hang out in person, doesn’t care about getting a driver’s license or a part-time job or going to the mall alone with their friends.
What do they care about? “It sometimes bugs me when I don’t get a certain amount of likes on a picture” says 13-year-old Athena. “I’ve been on my phone more than I’ve been with actual people,” she said. “My bed has, like, an imprint of my body.” The article strongly concludes that “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness” and here we have a generation more plugged in than ever. (Full article here.)
So, how do you unplug for happiness? How do you ignore the siren’s song of likes, loves, and comments, the photos of your friend’s latest micro brewery trip, the constant churn of political news? It’s easier than you think.
- Get an alarm clock. First of all, if you rely on your smartphone to wake you up each morning, STOP! Get yourself a traditional alarm clock. A study from the Braun Research Center and Bank of America shows more people think about their phones than their significant others when they first wake up. If you’re guilty of browsing Facebook right before bed and checking your messages the moment you wake up, keep your phone out of reach. Better yet? Keep it out of the bedroom.
- Give your phone a home. Quit carrying your phone in your pocket and keeping your tablet within arm’s reach. Designate a basket or drawer for your devices when you’re at home, and leave them there. Without the temptation of your phone buzzing in your pocket or your tablet lighting up on the coffee table, you’ll find it much easier to unplug.
- Start small. Set achievable goals for yourself. No one can go from phone junky to unplugged zen master overnight. Start off with a small amount of time for unplugging, perhaps an hour a day. The next week, increase to two hours. Leave your phone in the car when you’re out shopping. Go for a long walk each day and leave your phone at home. Be as kind to yourself as possible, and reward good behavior. You won’t enjoy long-term success if you make unplugging a punishment. Did you get through dinner without looking at your phone? Treat yourself! Buy a book. Go out for an ice cream.
- Have a plan. So your phone is in the other room… Now what? If you sit there counting the cracks in the ceiling, you’ll never stop thinking about what’s going on in the online world. Fear of Missing Out is a real thing (Hey, it has a Wikipedia entry!). If you don’t keep yourself busy, the temptation to check your phone will be unbearable. Make a list of things to do while unplugged and use it.
You can also take a look at The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World by Nancy Colier or The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer.
Happy unplugging! 🙂
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2 thoughts on “Unplug for Happiness”
Thanks for writing a this great article with many useful tips! The only thing I would disagree with is “leaving your phone in the car” because of security reasons. One, in the unlikely event your car is stolen or broken into, your phone with all your contacts, address is gone too and second, if you are being followed or see an accident you have no way to get help. I forgot to mention, in the event your car is stolen, the thief now knows you are not at home and knows where you live.
Thank you for the thoughtful comment. Of course, I recommend smart phone owners take common sense precautions when leaving their phone in the car. As with any expensive device, leave it in a safe place that is out of plain sight. Locked in the glove box would be the best spot. As for thieves gaining access to contact and address information, it is VERY important to ensure your device is locked with a passcode for this reason. In the unlikely event a thief does steal your phone, you are protected by that layer of security. Considering we have email, social media, contacts, and other sensitive information on our devices nowadays, not having a passcode is asking for trouble. Many thieves do not know how to bypass passcodes, and if they do, they’ll need a computer to accomplish it. By that time, most smart phone owners realize their phone has been stolen and can take action. Most modern smart phones come with the functionality to remotely erase and lock their device in the event it is lost or stolen.