What Might Explain The Unhappiness Epidemic?


Published:

We’d all like to be a little happier.

The problem is that much of what determines happiness is outside of our control. Some of us are genetically predisposed to see the world through rose-colored glasses, while others have a generally negative outlook. Bad things happen, to us and in the world. People can be unkind, and jobs can be tedious.

But we do have some control over how we spend our leisure time. That’s one reason why it’s worth asking which leisure time activities are linked to happiness, and which aren’t.

In a new analysis of 1 million U.S. teens, my co-authors and I looked at how teens were spending their free time and which activities correlated with happiness, and which didn’t.

We wanted to see if changes in the way teens spend their free time might partially explain a startling drop in teens’ happiness after 2012 – and perhaps the decline in adults’ happiness since 2000 as well.

A Possible Culprit Emerges

In our study, we analyzed data from a nationally representative survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders that’s been conducted annually since 1991.

Every year, teens are asked about their general happiness, in addition to how they spend their time. We found that teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat or watching TV were less happy.

In other words, every activity that didn’t involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness. The differences were considerable: Teens who spent more than five hours a day online were twice as likely to be unhappy as those who spent less than an hour a day.

Of course, it might be that unhappy people seek out screen activities. However, a growing number of studies show that most of the causation goes from screen use to unhappiness, not the other way around.

In one experiment, people who were randomly assigned to give up Facebook for a week ended that time happier, less lonely and less depressed than those who continued to use Facebook. In another study, young adults required to give up Facebook for their jobs were happier than those who kept their accounts. In addition, several longitudinal studies show that screen time leads to unhappiness but unhappiness doesn’t lead to more screen time.

If you wanted to give advice based on this research, it would be very simple: Put down your phone or tablet and go do something – just about anything – else.

It’s Not Just Teens

These links between happiness and time use are worrying news, as the current generation of teens (whom I call “iGen” in my book of the same name) spends more time with screens than any previous generation. Time spent online doubled between 2006 and 2016, and 82 percent of 12th-graders now use social media every day (up from 51 percent in 2008).

Sure enough, teens’ happiness suddenly plummeted after 2012 (the year when the majority of Americans owned smartphones). So did teens’ self-esteem and their satisfaction with their lives, especially their satisfaction with their friends, the amount of fun they were having, and their lives as a whole. These declines in well-being mirror other studies finding sharp increases in mental health issues among iGen, including in depressive symptoms, major depression, self-harm and suicide. Especially compared to the optimistic and almost relentlessly positive millennials, iGen is markedly less self-assured, and more are depressed.

A similar trend might be occurring for adults: My co-authors and I previously found that adults over age 30 were less happy than they were 15 years ago, and that adults were having sex less frequently. There may be many reasons for these trends, but adults are also spending more time with screens than they used to. That might mean less face-to-face time with other people, including with their sexual partners. The result: less sex and less happiness.

Although both teen and adult happiness dropped during the years of high unemployment amid the Great Recession (2008-2010), happiness didn’t rebound in the years after 2012 when the economy was doing progressively better. Instead, happiness continued to decline as the economy improved, making it unlikely that economic cycles were to blame for lower happiness after 2012.

Growing income inequality could play a role, especially for adults. But if so, one would expect that happiness would have been dropping continuously since the 1980s, when income inequality began to grow. Instead, happiness began to decline around 2000 for adults and around 2012 for teens. Nevertheless, it’s possible that concerns about the job market and income inequality reached a tipping point in the early 2000s.

Somewhat surprisingly, we found that teens who didn’t use digital media at all were actually a little less happy than those who used digital media a little bit (less than an hour a day). Happiness was then steadily lower with more hours of use. Thus, the happiest teens were those who used digital media, but for a limited amount of time.

The answer, then, is not to give up technology entirely. Instead, the solution is a familiar adage: everything in moderation. Use your phone for all the cool things it’s good for. And then set it down and go do something else.

You might be happier for it.

Jean Twenge is the author of more than 100 scientific articles and several trade books on the topic of generational differences, mostly recently “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.” Her current research interests include generational differences in traits, attitudes and behaviors.

This article was republished from The Conversation.

See also:
When Buying Nothing Gives You More Of Everything
When A Mom Feels Depressed, Her Baby’s Cells Might Feel It Too

The Conversation

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

June 18, 2018

Today’s stars support those “scouts’ among us who prepare for every possible contingency. A waxing Virgo Moon is favorably aspected to Uranus and Saturn, creating a super productive Grand Trine in the heavens. The pragmatic configuration enables and…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2018

Join us for a monthly gathering of like-hearted people to give and receive angelic energy healing. This session is a combination of group meditation and discussion, along with working in pairs...

Cost: Scale $5-$20 ($10 suggested)

Where:
Pathway Of Joy
884 Broadway, Suite 12
Upstairs in the Spiritual Renaissance Center building
South Portland, ME  04106
View map »


Sponsor: Pathway Of Joy
Telephone: 207-329-7192
Contact Name: Linda Huitt
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

8 Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course with Erin Woo Tuesdays, May 1 - June 19, 6–8:30 pm *Includes an all day retreat on Saturday, June 9 from 9 am - 4 pm Come explore the...

Cost: $290

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Balance Bethlehem
Telephone: 603-869-2125
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

If you are worried about getting Parkinson’s or have beginning symptoms, check out a free intro on how to rewire your brain from the inside. First and third Wednesdays of the month,...

Where:
, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

June 21 - 24, 2018 Healing trauma and installing boundaries. 9am-6pm each day. With Judith Swack, PhD. Learn how to heal PTSD. HBLU™ integrates the best of biomedical science, psychology,...

Where:
Needham, MA


Telephone: 781-444-6940
Website »

More information

Learn from local industry leaders, scientists and experts about innovations in wellness, behavioral change, nutrition, fitness, environmental, societal wellbeing and more. Learn how to start or...

Cost: Free

Where:
CIC Cambridge
One Broadway
Venture Cafe 5th Floor
Cambridge, MA  02142-3104
View map »


Sponsor: CIC Cambridge
Telephone: 617-953-0674
Contact Name: Shakti Rowan
Website »

More information

Energy Healing is an expression of our infinite connection to divine life force and divine imagination. When these divine forces move through us, they bring healing, wisdom, and the ability to...

Cost: $30

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
90 Main Street
Andover, MA  01810
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Website »

More information

June 21 - July 1, 2018 Women’s Yoga Retreats in beautiful Rockport, ME. Relax, rejuvenate, rediscover. 3 amazing options: Kundalini Summer Solstice - Jun 21-24 Gentle Yoga - Jun 24-28...

Where:
Rockport, ME


Telephone: 508-990-6795

More information

Third Tuesday of every month! A wonderful way to dilute stress and heal yourself with peace. www.WisdomoftheAges.biz www.Facebook.com/WisdomoftheAgesStore

Cost: $10

Where:
Wisdom of the Ages
Simsbury, CT


Telephone: 860-651-1172
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

With Joseph Carringer Relax, clear out energetic and emotional stagnation and connect with your major energy centers. Joseph provides a meditative journey that reconnects the mind with the...

Cost: $45

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
Lower Level
6 Chestnut Street
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags