Smartphones May Be a Huge Roadblock to a Happy Life, Research Suggests


I've shared several stories over the past several months about how digital media is affecting our quality of life, and not necessarily in a good way. It's one of those issues that I have (somewhat reluctantly) had to file under the "Mom was right" category, that constantly being on a digital device is simply not good for us as human beings.

A new research study reveals just as much when it comes to teenagers, who are so often consumed by social media and smartphone contentedness. If you're a parent, and wondering how to deal with the digital device addiction, consider just how it may be affecting your child's overall life-satisfaction.

Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia examined data from more than one million 8th, 10th, and 12th grade American students. The study's participants were asked about their digital device usage, levels of face-to-face interaction, and happiness in life. The results really ought to make us reconsider how much we are looking at our devices.

The authors found that teens who spent more time hanging out with friends in person and less time texting or video chatting were happier than those who spent more time in front of a screen. There was a notable increase in overall life satisfaction for students who participated in more extracurricular activities or sports, as well as those who read actual print publications more frequently. The research team believes that habitual use of smartphones or computers to socialize was a key factor in how unhappy a participant felt.

Imagine that. Constantly scrolling on an electronic device that presents what is often an alternative reality is going to affect our levels of happiness. Color me unsurprised.

I've often mentioned to friends of mine that what happens on social media and the news cycle is not always reflective of reality. One example of that is the idea that school shootings are an epidemic. As horrendous as these attacks are, they are actually not more common than they were several decades ago, and schools are actually safer now than they were in the 1990s.

However, if one is constantly on digital media, taking in the narrative that these events are happening constantly, it would be easy to understand one falling for that idea. And subsequently, it would also not be surprising to see people's levels of happiness declining as well.

“The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use,” says Jean M. Twenge, the study’s lead author a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, in a news release. “Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”

Two hours or so is best in her assessment, but who the happiest ones were is what I found most intriguing.

And while Twenge suggests allowing a maximum of two hours for screen time, she says the study showed that the happiest teens were those who spent a tad less than an hour per day on digital media. That statistic includes teens who report not using digital devices at all — which means some use of technology makes children happier. But after that first hour, unhappiness rose steadily among participants as their total screen time increased.

It's no longer a thing that mom used to say, it's now being shown by scientific research: digital addiction is bad for us, really bad. It affects our happiness and levels of life satisfaction. So if you're feeling down much of the time, try disconnecting for a while and see if it improves your state of mind.