Can Technology and Happiness Co-Exist?

by Tracey Bloom | May 15, 2017

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An Interview with Tech Expert, Amy Blankson

Tracey Bloom: How did you get started in the field of Happiness?

Amy Blankson: I started the journey in the field of happiness about thirty years ago, although I didn’t know it. My dad, a neuroscientist at Baylor University, spent years studying perception and evoked potential (how the brain reacts to various stimuli.) Despite the fact that he hooked my brother and me up to electrodes more than once to study our brain waves, my father was the one who was most shocked (pun intended) that my brother Shawn Achor and I joined forces to create GoodThink, to bring the science of positive psychology to life for others.

When we started the company in 2007, its focus was to help individuals find happiness in uncertain times using research-backed principles and strategies for sustaining a positive mindset. We traveled to over fifty countries, sharing this research with anyone willing to hear our message; we spoke to farmers in Zimbabwe, school children in Soweto, South Africa, bankers on Wall Street, and even leaders in the White House. However, gradually the questions I heard at my talks began to change. Instead of uncertainty about the economic health of the world, I began to hear concern about our how technology is shaping our lives and those of future generations:                                                                       

  • “Can happiness keep pace with innovation?”
  • “Would we be happier without tech?”
  • “How do we find happiness in spite of all this distraction?”
  • “How can we teach our kids appropriate tech boundaries?”

And so, I spent the last two years researching and learning all I could about the impact of technology on happiness. I interviewed thought leaders across multiple disciplines; I tested over 400 apps and gadgets; and I let myself be a guinea pig to see how effective different solutions really were. Most people don’t have time, energy, or desire to dig this deep into the research and implications of the findings; however, I love connecting people and resources, so I collated my research into a book that I called The Future of Happiness that is designed to be an actionable resource for busy people who want to make sense of the Digital Era that we are living in.

TB: Why is Happiness important in the workplace? 

AB: 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. Findings like these mean that it is imperative that we think about happiness in the workplace if we hope to perform at our highest levels.

TB: Do you think technology is contributing to our Happiness or detracting?

AB: 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.  

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TB: I love my smartphone. Is there hope for me?

AB: Of course--I love my smartphone too! The only problem is that sometimes we get so sucked into our devices that we don’t realize that, like Wile E. Coyote in the old Looney Tunes cartoon, we have run right off of the happiness cliff and find ourselves on a free fall to the bottom of a canyon. Today, the average smartphone user opens and closes their phone 150 times a day.  If it takes one minute each time to check the phone, that takes up 2.5 hours each day. This is crazy--I don’t have time for this!

Instead we need to develop effective boundaries for our use of technology. One study found that the mere presence of a cell phone in our line of sight is enough to decrease our productivity, accuracy, and sense of connection—even if you never touch or even look at the phone—because you are anticipating that you might be contacted. So do yourself a favor and tuck your phone behind your computer screen or better yet, stash it in your bag to get a boost to your sense of flow and meaning at work.

TB: What tip you can share, that I can implement right now, to promote more happiness among my friends and family?

AB: Rather than just getting away from our devices, I advocate a method I call “strategic unplugging.” And to prove to you that tech is a tool and not a toxin, I am going to use tech to help you gain greater control over your tech. Our goal is to control our impulses by being intentional about when, where, why, and how we use tech.                                                                                                                                               

  1. Know Your Stats. Download the Realizd app to see how many times you turn on your phone each day. The average person checks his phone 150 times every day. If every distraction took only one minute (a seriously optimistic estimate), that would account for 2.5 hours of distraction every day. That’s 912.5 hours a year, or roughly thirty-eight days each year. You see the problem? Perhaps even more disturbing is that I recently learned that a leading cellular company now offers its customers five dollars off of their monthly bill if they download an app that enables pop-up ads every time they open their phone, which could exponentially increase distraction. Knowing your stats increases your awareness so that you can make proactively choices about how you spend your time and energy.
  2. Know Your Limits. You don’t always need to turn off technology—sometimes you just need to learn how to set limits and boundaries on the technology you are using.  You can get creative about setting limits for use of technology in other domains of your life, such as abstaining from tech at nighttime, which will improve your productivity and mood for future days, as well. You can also set limits for how many people you follow on Twitter, how many e-books and audio books you buy, or how many apps you own. Rather than trying to consume everything for fear of missing out (FOMO!), learn to introduce only what you can actually consume and enjoy.
  3. Know Your Weaknesses. Download the app Unplugged for iPhone or Offtime app for Android to boost your willpower in putting your phone down from time to time. The Unplugged app encourages you to put your phone on airplane mode for short periods of time in order to focus or connect with others better, and the Offtime app whitelists contacts that you want to be able to pierce through your downtime, like your spouse or children, but otherwise shuts down apps, calls, texts, and emails.
  4. Know Your Intentions. Take a minute to write down how you would like to use tech in the future. For example, you might write:              
  • My intention is to use my phone as a tool and not as an escape.
  • My intention is to check email only once a day.
  • My intention is not to turn on my phone at family dinnertime.
  • My intention is to look people in the eye rather than at my screen.

Without setting an explicit intention for yourself moving forward, the brain will resort to muscle memory and sink into previous habits. Individuals who write down their goals are 42 percent more likely to stick with them.  Consider starting your day (weekend days too) by taking two minutes before you ever touch your phone or computer just to savor an “unplugged space” at the beginning of the day.

TB: What is the coolest thing about your job?

AB: A mentor once told me that you should stay in your job until you quit learning. The coolest thing about my job though is that I am constantly learning—positive psychology impacts every domain in my life, from work to play to home life. The ancient Greeks defined happiness as “the joy we feel striving after our potential,” which means that my potential is directly tied to my mindset. I may be good at reading financial statements, but do I feel joy about reading financial statements? Let’s be honest--that’s a bit more of a challenge. I use positive psychology day in and day out to give me a new lens with which to approach life and learning, and as a result, I feel like I’m growing by leaps and bounds every day.

Learn more about Amy HERE

Topics: Blog

Written by Tracey Bloom

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