I wanted to go to bed early. I had a long drive in the morning. I was tired. Then I got dragged down the Facebook rabbit hole and lost a critical hour of time reading updates, clicking on news articles, and, generally, wasting time. I looked up, cursed my lack of willpower, and then realized I would not get the eight hours of sleep that most doctors say is the amount you need. So much for feeling well-rested and happy during a day of critical meetings.
Research Shows Social Media Can Make Us Happy
I am hardly alone in this sentiment. Research on college students and people in Denmark has shown that unfettered use of Facebook and other social media properties can make us feel less happy. The way to break a bad habit, of course, is to insert an involuntary trigger to break that habit. That trigger can be mental or physical, but it needs to be prominent and ever-present in order to work.
I wrote on the back of my hand two words followed by a question mark: "Happy App?" This was simple shorthand for the question, "Does this app you are about to use make you happy or sad?" It doesn't have to be an app, either. It can be a website. It can be a service, such as Netflix. But the question remains the same: will you feel happy or sad after you spend this time?
Ask A Question, Boost Your Happiness
Because time is our most precious commodity and how we use it dictates both our near-term and longer-term happiness and satisfaction with life. If I could have had all the hours that I've wasted on social media back and instead had spent that time with friends, family, or in the outdoors, I am 100 percent certain I would have increased my happiness quotient (and probably increased the happiness of those around me). I would have slept more hours, too, which would have meant more quality time with the people I care about and higher quality work and thinking. (I also might be a few pounds lighter and have a better attention span--but I'm already working on fixing those, too).
By writing that two word question on the back of my hand and training myself to always look there before I open Facebook, stray onto Twitter, or dive into Google News, I built-in a "Pause" button that allowed my conscious, executive self to take over the unconscious self that behavior designers at those companies attempt to influence. And that interruption helps me make better decisions. (In fact, I put this strategy to work successfully to stay focused while writing my next book on the topic of technology and happiness.)
Granted, there are times when I really enjoy some of those distractions--when I am talking to friends on Facebook about a class reunion, for example. But what I most appreciate is regaining my choice and control--and the ability to weight carefully whether my time spent adds or subtracts to my happiness.
I also don't think it's fair to say that Facebook and other social media are destroying your life. Lots of people enjoy using social media, watching Netflix and other quasi-addictive products ,and they control their usage effectively. That said, its extremely valid to ask yourself about your own usage, particularly, if unconscious consumption makes you notably less happy.
So ask yourself this simple question before you context switch into social media, movies or some other form of impulsive online consumption. Will what I am about to do online add to my happiness? Will I look back at the time I just spent and say, yes, that was exactly how I wanted to spend my time? If the answer is "No" then get up, get a drink of water, walk around the block, or simply keep on with whatever it was you were doing before. Happiness is a choice, and app happiness can be simple. Ask the question. Reap the rewards.