“We limit how much technology our kids use.”~Steve Jobs
“What I’ve been doing,” Bill tells me, “is not looking at my phone for at least an hour after I wake up.”
To prepare for an upcoming television appearance on World Happiness Day, I’m spending an hour with my acting coach. He takes me through filmed mock interviews so I’m ready for news-anchor questions. Naturally Bill and I talk about what gets in the way of happiness, and one of our top suspects is technology—particularly the technology that appears on the addicting devices so often hitched to our hands these days.
“I used to check emails as soon as I woke up.” Bill leans his chin on his hands. “Then I’d feel burdened with other people’s demands. Now, waiting to check emails makes space for things that are more important. Starting my day on my own terms and priorities helps me feel more in control of my life.”
The irony doesn’t escape me. You’re probably reading this piece on a device, and I used both my laptop and my phone to research and write it. From scheduling and weather checking to managing to-do lists and fitness tracking, my phone helps with all kinds of valuable tasks.
Yet I’m as guilty as anyone of getting lost scanning social media or skimming the latest, never-ending stream of headlines that are never further than an arm’s length away. If I’m not careful, I can lose hours! Turns out I’m not alone. On average, American adults now spend three hours on their phones per day. Before smartphones? That average was 18 minutes. Think about it. That’s a tenfold increase in a few years. Technology is supposed to give us freedom to spend our time on more important things, yet seems to be having the opposite effect.
We justify our phone use while we thirst for more time. It’s a little, harmless escape, we tell ourselves. What’s wrong with keeping up on the headlines, and scrolling through friends’ vacation photos, or playing games? Nothing, of course, in moderation. But 180 minutes a day of such numbing out leaves little time for true sources of happiness: connecting with ourselves and with others and engaging our passions.
How do we shift from phone addiction to more meaningful pursuits? To me, mindfulness is key, starting with priorities and intention. Identify what is most important and what you really want. Does your phone support or interfere with your dreams and goals? Next, perform what we shrinks call a “behavioral analysis.” Recall what happened before you reached for your phone. How stressful was the moment or hour or day before? If self-soothing is what you need, what other ways might you obtain it?
Bill’s idea of checking emails later in the day is a good one. My friend Nicole takes it a step further with “technology fasts.” She leaves her phone off and doesn’t check her computer for at least one full day each week, sometimes more. “I’m so much happier on those days,” she tells me, “and not just because it’s the weekend!”
I’ve been experimenting lately with setting a timer. Five minutes max a day for Facebook. Same with Instagram and news. Five minutes each tops. It’s an ambitious goal, and I sometimes cheat. But it is helping.
As with any habit change, simply setting the phone down isn’t enough. We need to replace time spent on devices with activities that are enjoyable, rewarding, and, perhaps most important, stress reducing. Consider volunteering, attending a fitness class, hanging out with neighbors, or playing a board game. I’ve been saving time and energy for activities that are dear to me, such as writing, reaching out to family, bonding with the dog, practicing gratitude, and reading actual books (that’s right, the paper kind!). All of these give back so much more than my iPhone. Hey, if Steve Jobs knew the wisdom of limiting his children’s screen time, we should pay attention.
TODAY’S CONVERSATION SPARKS
Have a conversation with a loved one in which both of you explore the following questions. Listen deeply and speak from the heart.
- What are your true priorities and intentions?
- How much time per day do you spend on electronic devices? How does that support of interfere with your dreams and goals?
- How do you feel when you use technology less? What would help you to do so?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tom Glaser is a psychologist, life coach, speaker, and author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. Based in Minneapolis, he spends as much time as possible in the deserts of southern California. When he isn’t teaching Full Heart Living workshops—which explore how to listen and provide dynamic Conversation Sparks—you’ll find him working on a second book on Resilience following Trauma. He aims to inspire conversations that not only uncover meaning and purpose but also bring out the best in people.