Do you know what makes you happy?

Happiness concept

Today is the United Nations “International Day of Happiness”. It coincides with “Kiss Your Fiancé Day” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbour Day”, both clearly also designed to spread a little happiness. And if you are in the UK, your happy weekend may well have started last night with the BBC’s “Comic Relief” fundraising event, which is aimed at putting a smile on your face while you dip into your pocket to donate to those less fortunate. You did donate, didn’t you? No? Then please make someone happy today and do it HERE…!

We live in times, though, where happiness is in short supply. Anxiety levels are “through the roof” because of the uncertainties due to COVID-19. At the same time, the lack of social contact is causing people to become depressed. I know I said it a year ago, but once the Coronavirus situation is over, it will be followed by an enormous pandemic of mental health issues.

Many mental health issues will arise because people are short of happiness. Being happy is not just about having a laugh or living with a permanent grin on your face. Happiness is the psychological emotion we feel when everything is “just right”. The scientific assessment of people in a state of happiness shows that it depends on two factors. The first of these is an emotionally positive state. The second, though, is more analytical. It is the cognitive recognition of satisfaction.

In other words, you need to be able to judge the situation in which you find yourself and recognise it as something that makes you satisfied. If that is the case and your brain’s emotional centres are in a positive state, you will experience happiness. The two things need to coincide before you recognise yourself as being happy.

Several long-term studies of happiness show the same finding: people were much happier in the late 1980s and early 1990s than they are today. Indeed, happiness as a feeling is now lower than it has ever been since psychologists starting recording it in 1973. The chances are that you are less happy now than you were 20 years ago. The pandemic has just added to a decline in happiness which has been going on for nearly 50 years. The crucial issue is to find out why.

One of the possible reasons was revealed in research conducted by Sky. I have been working with Sky this week, looking at the issue of  “choice paralysis” when it comes to choosing what to watch on TV. The study, already reported in The Sun newspaper, has revealed that people are getting stressed out by indecision. Indeed, a quarter of families are ending up in arguments with relationships having difficulties as a result. That’s not happiness. The Sky Q voice recognition software can help when you say, “What should I watch?” and it then produces personalised recommendations across the entire spectrum of options for you.

However, the research shows that technology is at the centre of stress-inducing problems, with people spending more days unproductively scrolling around their screens than they get days holiday a year. That is not a good use of time, especially as all it does is make people feel less satisfied. And remember, the sense of satisfaction is a critical component of happiness.

The fact is, happiness reduces as we use more and more technology. In countries with lower levels of high-tech, the happiness scores are higher. The Nobel Prize winner, Professor Robert Solow, demonstrated that as increased computing technology is introduced into businesses, the lower the productivity becomes. The technology that we believe is helping us at work is more of a hindrance. Plus, it reduces our happiness.

Take email as an example. This week saw the 50th anniversary of the invention of email. Is it a coincidence that happiness has reduced in line with the rise of email? Email stress is significant. Either you have inboxes full of unread messages, or you are frustrated at the nonsense you receive. Most business people are now spending half the day dealing with email, most of which is unnecessary. That is not a source of happiness.

We often use technology because it seems to solve a problem. Yet, it usually creates another one which is some kind of stress and dissatisfaction. However, it’s not the technology that’s the problem. It’s the way we use it. There is no need, for instance, to use email when a phone call is better. Nor is there any need to copy-in everyone in the office, “just in case”. Using technology in some kind of blind hope that it will help is the route to unhappiness. But thoughtfully using technology is helpful.

If you want to buck the trend and increase your happiness, especially as we come out of lockdown, the answer is to look at how you use technology. Are you just “using it”, or are you being thoughtful to get “use from it”? Is the technology in charge of you, or are you in charge of the technology? One road leads to dissatisfaction and frustration; the other leads to happiness.

If you don’t want to think about technology and how you use it, you will need to accept that you will become less happy over time. That’s why you may well need to do something to make yourself happy today, such as by donating to Comic Relief.

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