Our Phones Are Not Our Friends

Is Our Favorite Accessory Stealing Our Happiness?

There is one accessory that no one is willing to leave the house without.  In fact, if at all possible, we will return home to get it.  If misplaced, it causes a panic.  We’re not even willing to move from room to room without it.  We are undeniably fused to our phones.

The debate now isn’t if our children will get smartphones, but when.  And with the phones comes the similar debate about social media, games, and screen time.  We are physically, mentally, and emotionally dependent on our phones, and yet we resent them: our children’s dependency on them, and the time we waste on them. 

Our “favorite”, must-have accessory is stealing our happiness in the following three ways. 

1. Social Media

Social Media has become such an ingrained part of our daily routine, and yet you might be shocked by your daily usage.  One study reports, “North Americans use social media for around 2 hours and 6 minutes daily.”  That might seem farfetched until you consider how habitually you open your phone while doing other tasks: getting ready for work/school, standing in line at the checkout, using the bathroom, or even driving! 

Individuals aged 16-24 are reported to spend the most time on SM each day, averaging just over 3 hours.  The amount of time reduces for each age bracket, but the minimum time, (for people aged 55-64) is still almost an hour and fifteen minutes a day.  That is more time than we normally spend grooming, exercising, meditating, reading scripture, or even talking face-to-face with our family members. 

If you don’t think these statistics apply to you, consider trying a Social Media fast.  It might surprise you how many times you routinely pick up your phone to scan your feed without giving it a conscious thought. 

The Problem:

Social Media isn’t the enemy.  It can be used for a number of good purposes.  The problems associated with social media are connected to our mental health, primarily when it comes to comparison.  Consider the name itself: “Social Media”—this is communication (media) created solely for the purpose of dissemination amongst our peers or social class. 

Consider for a moment how honest you are.  If you step on the scale and it reads 158, do you tell people you weigh 158 or 155?  3 pounds is harmless enough, right?  But do you see how easily we might alter reality even just a little, when we share it publicly? 

Social Media has made us inherently more comparative people.  When we see someone’s new hairstyle we think, “when was the last time I had my hair done?”.  When we see their vacation pictures we think, “I never get to go anywhere exciting”. 

Social media on our phones and comparison thief of joy

We all share our positive, happy, exciting moments on our Social Media, but do we celebrate these moments for others, or do we just turn inward, resentful and jealous?  If we are going to continue using Social Media in our lives, we have to ask ourselves, “Am I emotionally mature enough to admire others’ successes, talents and celebrations without feeling threatened or insecure?” 

“There are going to be times in our lives when someone else gets an unexpected blessing or receives some special recognition.  May I plead with us not to be hurt—and certainly not to feel envious—when good fortune comes to another person.  We are not diminished when someone else is added upon.”

Jeffrey R. Holland

The Solution:

Most importantly, and I am just one voice among thousands giving this advice: STOP beginning your day by checking your social media feed! I am the first to admit that I am occasionally guilty of this, too.  It’s not healthy.  We need to start our days with exercise, meditation, spiritual reflection, or any other number of positive habits that have the ability to strengthen our minds, bodies and spirits and prepare us to engage the day with vigor and optimism.

Instead, we open our phones while still bleary-eyed and begin our day by immediately filling our minds with self-doubt, judgment (of others and ourselves!) and animosity.  Not only does this detrimental habit immediately steal away our happiness, it sets us on a path of playing catch-up all day! 

2. Screen Time

Social Media is but one of the ways we are wasting the precious minutes of each day with our phones.  Again, I am guilty of being on my phone and/or computer a lot.  The “screen time report” I get courtesy of Apple every week often makes me feel bad—unless preceded by the words, “your phone usage was down this week!”. 

But, our phones are our lives, right?  More now than ever, they are our personal and professional lifeline.  We use our phones for Zoom meetings, Doctor’s appointments, Food & Grocery delivery, along with all our previous social engagements. 

But what about our down time?  What about the time we are not obligated to something or someone else?  When we have a few moments to ourselves during the day, do we immediately reach for our phone?  Do we check the news, pay bills, or play a quick game?  This is what I refer to as Media Over-stimulation. 

The Problem:

Whether it’s the news, television, radio, podcasts, movies, video games, whatever, are all our “down-time” moments consumed with something from the outside-world via our smartphone? When was the last time you sat and read a book, wrote in your journal, meditated, or simply sat alone with your thoughts? 

A study completed by the University of Virginia warns us that we are so over-stimulated by our smartphones and other technology, that we are positively paralyzed without them.  The study concluded that “in 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think,…that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.

Imagine…electric shocks instead of being alone with our thoughts!  Media Overstimulation has contributed to our inability to sit contentedly alone without external stimulation.  Even worse, we are allowing outside influences determine whether or not we are happy, and we are turning to outside stimulation to find happiness. 

The Solution:

Do something every day to practice mindfulness—being in the present moment—whether with someone else or alone.

“Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices.  Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.”

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

Our screen time obsession contributes to our over-loaded, non-stop schedule.  As a society, we embrace “busyness” like a badge of honor.  If we are not actively “on the go”, we are simulating that hassle with outward, electronic stimulation. 

Shut the phone off.  Close the screens.  When standing in line at the grocery store, engage in conversation with someone.  Talk to your children.  The habitual behavior of always being on our phones also affects our relationships, and can be particularly damaging to partners and children whose Love Language is quality time

We have to re-learn that having the time to sit quietly alone with our thoughts is a luxury and a gift. 

3. Physical Health

Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t excluded from the detrimental effects of our phones.  Our smartphones can be responsible for eye, neck, and back strain, poor posture, and headaches.  The time spent on our phones can cause sleep and weight problems, along with the stress and anxiety of over-stimulation mentioned above. 

Additionally, Neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to grow and problem-solve diminishes.  Imaginative play and creativity lessen.  With Google at your fingertips, why trouble yourself to commit anything to memory?  What has happened in our day to keeping our brains sharp with the “productive struggle”?

To say that our phones have no physical effects on our bodies is foolish.

The Problem:

Our health is a crucial part of our happiness, period.  And yet, it is so often overlooked.  It is hard to be happy when we are in pain.  Despite our best efforts to be positive and put our “best foot forward”, even a trifling headache can give us an edge. 

Our inability to stay focused because we’re tired, we have a headache, or our back hurts can cause us to miss deadlines, become frustrated with ourselves, or lash out at others in anger.  Our physical limitations lead to emotional and mental strain which can carry over into our relationships, our professional life, and our general outlook on life.

Remember that resentment and jealousy mentioned above by comparing ourselves to others on Social Media?  Those emotions have corresponding physical consequences.  Over time, the faces we make will leave a physical imprint on our faces.  Wouldn’t you rather have laugh lines than scowl lines?

The Media Over-stimulation from too much screen time causes stress.  That stress increases our cortisol levels, which increases our heart rate and blood pressure.  In short, all these components–our phones, Social Media, mental health, emotional clarity, physical health—all work together for good or for bad. 

The Solution:

In my opinion, there are three tiers to fixing our health. 

  1. Things beyond our control
  2. Things we can improve with a little bit of work
  3. Easy fixes

Correcting the health problems caused by our phones should be an easy fix!  We just have to choose that our health is more important to us than our Social Media, our games, or our constant distractions from the present moment. 

If we are at a stage where we have to combat long-term damage such as hunched shoulders and bad posture, that is something we can fix with a little bit of work.  We just have to choose to put the phone down and engage in healthy, physical activity instead. 

How to Restore Happiness (and Keep our Phones)

Instead of surrendering our phones, first try being mindful of the ways they steal our happiness. Then try intentionally working on the following four things:

  • Spend some time this week face-to-face with someone you love. Don’t you dare touch your phone while you’re with them!
  • Rest your eyes and think.  Let your mind wander through your thoughts or struggle to solve a problem. 
  • Stretch. Move. Don’t sit hunched over your phone (or computer!) all day. 
  • Disconnect from Social Media.  Express gratitude for what you have. 

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