In my previous blog, I brought up the fundamental problem with our screens. Our overuse of screens can interfere with how we meet our physiological and psychological needs. To be happy in life, we must effectively meet our needs. When we talk about how to improve happiness with screens, it means that we use our screens to more effectively meet our needs. But our screen (over) use can interfere with our physiological needs, such as sleep. No matter what the benefits screens provide, our health and well-being will take a hit if we don’t get enough sleep.
We must also meet our psychological needs. According to Deci & Ryan’s self-determination theory, these are: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Relatedness is, arguably, the most important psychological need. We meet our need for relatedness through having strong, healthy social relationships. Here’s the key: for the most part, our need for relatedness must be met through in-person interactions. Over the course of millions of years, we evolved to be in relationship with one another in-person. Thus, when we are too out-of-sync with our evolutionary heritage, our well-being will take a hit.
Our Screen (Over) Use
Although it’s a challenge to measure, we are spending A LOT of time on our screens. In fact, you are looking at one right now – DOH! Ah, I’m trying to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. But I do get the irony. It’s a crazy world we live in! According to Nielson Company audience report, the average American spends over 10.5 hours per day staring at screens. If we look up from our smartphones long enough, we might notice how everyone else has their nose buried in theirs. The time we spend on our screens has to come out of our time from other activities.
Sleep is one activity that is likely taking a hit from our screen use. Back in 1910, Americans averaged around 9 hours of sleep per night. Now we are averaging around 6 hours and 40 minutes per night. That’s a BIG drop off! Around 40% of Americans are getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Yikes! We are at a much greater risk for a host of negative health outcomes if we don’t get enough sleep.
Our relationships are also key to our happiness. When we spend too much time on our screens instead of with people in-person, our well-being will take a hit. Dr. Sherry Turkle, a psychology professor at MIT, has been studying the way our screen use affects us for decades. In her aptly-titled book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, she lays out how technology is undermining our social connections. It’s hard to draw a hard line for “how much is too much.” But it seems like more than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day can result in the negatives outweighing the positives.
How to Improve Happiness with Screens?
It’s not all bad news about screens. If they didn’t have many benefits, we wouldn’t be on them so much! If we can manage to use our screens in a balanced way, we can achieve a “tech happy life.” Balance is more of a process – kind of like having a healthy diet. We are never “done.” Also, we don’t achieve it all the time. But we have a goal in mind because that’s how we can improve happiness with screens.
When it comes to meeting our need for relatedness, this is where our screens can be a benefit. Here’s what I believe to be most important. We should use our screens to facilitate and enhance our in-person connections. When we do this, we can improve happiness with screens. But if they displace our in-person connections, that’s when we can pay a price. For instance, it’s a problem if we are texting or using social media instead of spending time with friends. Also, if we disconnect from those around us to check our phones, then that’s a problem. Our overuse of smartphones can undermine our relationships. But how can we know if we are mucking up our relationships through screen use? I’ll tackle that in my next blog!