How to Be Happy in the Digital Age
We live in the digital age.
Some bemoan the constant interruptions and endless internet surfing. Others celebrate the new-found freedom and capabilities.
How has the digital age impacted our happiness?
Amy Blankson is one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between positive psychology and technology. She is the only person to be named a Point of Light by two presidents (President George Bush Sr. and President Bill Clinton) for creating a movement to activate positive culture change. A sought-after speaker and consultant, Amy has now worked with organizations like Google, NASA, the US Army, and the Xprize Foundation to help foster a sense of well-being in the Digital Era.
Her new book, The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the digital Era, is a blend of research, case studies, and practical tips to improve your happiness, productivity and health in the midst of the onslaught of apps, devices, and constant connection.
I recently spoke to her about staying positive in the midst of it all.
Happiness in the Digital Age
I want to start with the question that an entrepreneur asked you at one of your presentations: “Social media and technology are destroying our happiness, right?”
In recent months, I have seen a growing number of posts about how bad technology is for us. Technology is blamed for social isolation, disconnection, and corruption. But I’ve also heard and seen how technology can be used for good — a means to connect, to share knowledge, to empower, even to save lives. So, which is it: Is technology good for us or bad for us? Does technology make us less happy or more happy? As Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Technology is a tool, a means to an end–and WE get to decide how that story ends.
Since technology can both bring joy and destroy it, tell us a few ways you’ve used it to your advantage. And tell us about what apps you’re using for happiness, productivity, and to “tune in, not zone out.”
One of my favorite examples of “happytech” is the Spire stone. The Spire stone is a small wearable that clips onto your bra strap or waistband to monitor your respiration and, in turn, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and increase the flow of endorphins in your blood stream. The Spire uses your breathing patterns to figure out when you are tense, calm, or focused, and provides gentle notifications to guide you when you need it most.
When I first started testing out the Spire stone, I had a particularly poignant experience. Last spring, my family jumped into our backyard pool to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. In an unfortunate turn of circumstances, my younger daughter jumped into the pool a bit too close to her older sister, landing on her neck and breaking her neck. I happened to be out of town when this happened, so I didn’t know how bad the situation was until I returned home and took my older daughter to the doctor. I was wearing my Spire stone the whole time and had managed to stay fairly calm through the doctor visit; however, as I was walking out of the hospital with my daughter in a giant neck brace, my Spire stone began to vibrate to let me know I was feeling tense. Pausing to think about what was going on, I realized that I was actually anxious about how other people would perceive me as the mother of a child with a broken neck. The nudge was just enough to help me reframe my thoughts to be more present for my daughter rather than worried about myself, and I was able to short-circuit an emotional response that might have taken me a week or more to realize before I had the Spire stone.
Tell us about the Happiness Cliff.
Sometimes tech is fun just for the sake of the endorphin rush and the dopamine boost. But at what point do those focus-altering diversions cause us to lose sight over what we really care about? At what point do diversions turn into fixations that are distracting?
Sometimes we become so engrossed in our diversions that we don’t notice that they are no longer making us happy anymore. Like Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, we get our legs going so fast that it actually takes us a moment to realize that we have run right off the Happiness Cliff. Let me assure you that this never turns out well for poor Wile E.
According to the Law of Diminishing Returns, many diversions can actually be beneficial for our productivity and happiness—up to a point. Beyond that point, the diversion simply becomes a waste of time and eventually a time suck that becomes harmful to our productivity. To avoid falling off the happiness cliff, start your day by setting your intention for how you want to use your time. When you start to find yourself engrossed in a task, pause to ask if your technology use is helping you tune in (helping you to achieve your intention) or causing you to zone out. If your answer is the latter, then try to set a time limit for yourself to engage in that activity so that you don’t get sucked in and lose focus.
What does the latest research tell us about our ability to train our brains to be more positive?
The latest research from the field of positive psychology reveals that training our brains to be more positive is not only possible, it’s actually essential to striving after your full potential. Why? Because when your brain is positive, it receives a boost of dopamine, which turns on the learning centers in the brain and makes you able to see more possibilities in your environment. In fact, a positive brain has been linked to: 37% higher sales, 3x more creativity, 31% higher productivity, 40% increase in likelihood of receiving a promotion, 23% decrease in symptoms of fatigue, 10x increase in the level of engagement at work, a 39% increase in the likelihood of living to age 94, and a 50% decrease in the risk of heart disease.