In theory, as our productivity, efficiency and communication improve with technology, we should have more time to do the things that make us happy. And yet, happiness levels continue to fall. According to the United Nations’ latest “World Happiness Report,” the United States, the dominant leader in science and technology, is only the 18th happiest country in the world due to poor health, poor economic mobility and a lack of social cohesion. While there are many factors to blame for the decline in happiness, some do point to the infiltration of technology in every aspect of our lives. One thing is for certain: Technology, whether it makes you happier or not, is here to stay.
“I often say that technology is not good or bad, it’s what we do with it,” says bestselling author of “The Future of Happiness” Amy Blankson, who co-founded GoodThink to bring the science of happiness to life for organizations and individuals. “Those individuals that are doing the best job thriving in the digital era are the ones who know how to shape their own behaviors and shape the behaviors of those around them.”
While technology will continue to evolve, we do have some control over how we use technology in our daily lives. Here are five strategies for creating a better balance between technology, productivity and well-being, and for harnessing the power of technology to enhance happiness in the digital present and future.
Technology is making it easier for us to study and learn about ourselves. There are many apps, gadgets and devices like Headspace and Fitbit aimed at increasing mindfulness and health awareness. Using insights gleaned from personal data, we can create positive changes in our lives to reach our full potential. Blankson recommends the Spire Stone that helps you track your respiration and better understand stress and anxiety triggers so you can either avoid them or respond better. “That honing in on what it is we need in our lives and how we can make it better gives us a sharper edge to be able to be our best selves,” says Blankson.
Put the phone away
One of the greatest challenges in the workplace is establishing better boundaries around technology. Blankson has seen a free-for-all exploration of the new platforms, gadgets and apps over the past 10 years that has caused too much distraction in people’s lives. A recent research study found that the mere presence of your smartphone reduces cognitive capacity and functioning. The reason is your brain is actually anticipating that it might get a message and devotes resources to the potential message rather than staying focused on and connected to the task at hand. “One simple strategy is to put your phone out of sight when you’re working,” says Blankson. “Those triggers that are so addictive for us like being needed are kept under control so that you can do what you need to be doing.”
Focus on the present
Another challenge chief executives face is uncertainty about the future. Employees are constantly looking ahead to what’s going to happen with the economy, in politics and with the future of work. “A CEO can help individuals through uncertainty by helping them focus on the present,” says Blankson. “We find that organizations and individuals who embrace gratitude as a strategy in the workplace have been able to significantly increase employee engagement and well-being.” For example, starting a meeting with three things that you are grateful for or giving positive praise to an employee frames the conversation around the present and the past rather than the future. Blankson says that differentiator helps people look at what they can do in the day to day to make happiness a choice in the way they are living their lives.
Take it one step at a time
The most effective way to make positive life changes is to focus on one change and, when accomplished, then move to another. Blankson says that when she gives high-performing individuals suggestions for increasing happiness such as journaling, gratitude, acts of kindness, meditation or exercise, they will try to do all five every day right away. “Individuals who can pick one change they want to make and focus on doing that positive change for a period of time, like 21 days to begin to develop a habit, are significantly more effective than individuals who try to do everything for a long period,” says Blankson. As a corporate example, she cites Plasticity Labs, where employees create WOW or within-a-week, one-month and one-year goals. Having accountability, positive recognition and incentives built into the company-wide program has led to greater success and engagement.
Create a culture of positivity
Creating a culture of happiness within the workplace is one of the keys to long-term success for employees. Blankson says optimism, the perception of stress as a challenge to overcome versus threat and social support are the three predictors of long-term success and happiness. Intentionally creating building blocks of positive skill sets within the workplace, such as JGAME or journaling, gratitude, acts of kindness, meditation and exercise, helps increase individual happiness as well as create a positive culture. These small changes in behavior can help employees learn to develop resilience and grit and to flourish in a world fueled by technology.