Does technology hurt our ability to be happy or can it actually help? With the proliferation of smartphones and the internet, Amy Blankson, co-founder of the global positive psychology firm GoodThink, says the answer to this question will define our time. In The Future of Happiness, Amy, a Harvard graduate and Yale MBA, reveals five strategies to harness technology to increase happiness and thrive in the digital age.
AMY BLANKSON: My brother Shawn Achor and I joined forces to create GoodThink in 2007. Gradually, the questions we heard at our talks began to change. Instead of uncertainty about the economic health of the world, we 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?
This book emerged from those real-life conversations with individuals across the globe, across economic boundaries and across ages. I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that the answers to these questions will de ne our time. These are the questions that undergird the modern family dynamic, that shape workplace efficiency and engagement, and set the baseline for our interactions and communications with friends.
My goal with The Future of Happiness is to inspire a new way of thinking about technology, one that gives us new language to think about how we fuse technology into our lives.
LH: What are a few examples of technology being used for good?
Some of my favorite examples are:
- The Emma pen—used to help Parkinson’s sufferers write again.
- E-nable—a global volunteer organization that helps individuals 3D-print and assemble prosthetic limbs for children in need.
- Cochlear implants—enable people to hear for the first time.
LH: Do you think there’s a lack of awareness of how technology can make us happier?
Absolutely! In recent months, I have seen a growing number of posts about how bad technology is for us. 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.
LH: How do we consciously curate the tech we use and choose to use technology mindfully?
AB: Rather than just getting away from our devices, I advocate a method I call strategic unplugging. To prove that tech is a tool and not a toxin, I am going to use tech to help you gain greater control over your tech.
- Know Your Stats. Download the Instant or Moment apps 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 38 days in a year. You see the problem? Knowing your stats increases your awareness, so that you can make choices about how you spend your time and energy.
- Know Your Limits. Download the BreakFree app to see how often you use different apps. Get creative about setting limits for use of technology, such as abstaining from tech at nighttime, which will improve your productivity and mood for future days.
- 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.
- Know Your Intentions. Download the Intentional Living app to write explicitly how you would like to use tech in the future. You might write:
My intention is to check email only once a day. Without setting an explicit intention for yourself, the brain will resort to muscle memory and sink into previous habits.
LH: How can people start seeing technology as a positive influence in their lives?
AB: The first way is to acknowledge that technology has been a positive influence in our lives. Statistics show technology has improved relationships:
- 66 percent of internet users say their email exchanges have improved their connections to significant friends.
- 22 percent of respondents reported that they had either married, become engaged to or were living with someone they initially met on the internet.
At GoodThink, we often teach individuals to scan their environment for three things for which they are grateful. This exercise teaches the brain that, although there are negative and positive inputs all around us, we can choose to look for the positive and give them priority in our lives.
LH: What’s the one thing (above others) you hope readers take away from your book?
AB: The future of happiness is up to us. By intentionally thinking about where, when, why and how we are using technology, we can begin to actively shape the social scripts and market forces that drive our culture to create the future that we truly want to see.
Listen to Amy's Interview on the Live Happy Now podcast:
Sandra Bienkowski is a contributing editor for Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.