Donders Wonders

The impact of smartphones on happiness

This post is also available in Dutch.

Nowadays almost everybody owns a smartphone and we spend a lot of time on them. How does this affect our happiness?

Smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, CC0, Flickr

A week without a smartphone
A philosophy teacher asked over a hundred students to live without a smartphone for 7 days. The students’ experiences were shocking. They described life without a smartphone as more ‘real’, ‘beautiful’, ‘intense’, and ‘conscious’. They also reported improved concentration, productivity and quality of sleep. The philosophy teacher wrote a book about these results to express his concerns about the impact of the smartphone.

His concerns are probably valid, since smartphone applications are developed to attract our attention as much as possible. Just think of all the notifications you receive for emails, WhatsApp messages and Facebook interactions. Additionally, these apps try to tap into your brain’s reward system to make sure you keep checking them continuously.

21 hours ‘lost’ per week
Ironically, there are also applications to help you decrease your smartphone use. Feeling perplexed by the results of the smartphone detox study, my friends and I started to keep track of our smartphone use via one such application. We couldn’t believe what it said: Each of us spent more than 3 hours per day on the device. Three hours per day! That adds up to 21 hours per week! I couldn’t imagine where I had even found the time for this. However, apparently this is fairly ‘normal’: the average person seems to be on their smartphone a little more than 3 hours per day.

The verdict (according to science)
How does this amount of smartphone use affect our happiness, according to science? Would we maybe be happier if we spent less time on our phones?

Scientists are still trying to answer these questions, but what has become clear from research is that smartphone use in the evening is associated with less sleep and decreased energy the next day. You can read a previous blog about this here.

Additionally, more smartphone use is associated with lower grades, increased anxiety, and lower life satisfaction. Furthermore, it was found that students experience using their smartphones for substantial amounts of time (more than 10 hours per day) as very stressful, even in their free time.

What you do on your smartphone also seems to matter. Using social media is typically associated with an increase in loneliness, anxiety, and feelings of dissatisfaction. Increased Facebook usage has, for example, been shown to lead to lower life happiness later.

In short: Your smartphone use does indeed seem to affect your happiness.

Want to change your usage?
If you are considering reducing the time you spend on your smartphone, a good first step is to try gain some insight into your usage. For example, you can start by keeping track of your phone time. Attempting to completely stop using your phone all of a sudden does not seem to be a good idea; this could actually increase negative feelings. First try to slightly adjust your use and see how that goes. For example, you can try to turn your smartphone off for a while, shut down certain notifications, or read a nice book on the train. By doing this I managed to reduce my smartphone use to just 1,5-2 hours per day, and I have to say I really appreciate the change. So, will you also dial down your phone time?

This blog was written by Angelique.
Edited by Annelies.
Translated by Felix.

3 thoughts on “The impact of smartphones on happiness

  1. Yes, It’s always good to live without a smartphone. The less you were engaged towards your smartphone in your daily life the more you will become productive. I am agreed with your opinion. Just live without a smartphone for a while and we all can have a happy life.

    1. Thank you for your reply Victor. I think that it is indeed a good thing to be aware of the effects your smartphone might have on you.

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