Do technology cause our misery? Yes and no

The general state of misery in society seems to be growing and there seems to be no end in sight. One question that remains worrying is whether technology – and in particular the use of smartphones – is the cause of such growing unhappiness.

Dr. Kostadin Kushlev is an assistant professor and researcher at Georgetown University who studies how constant connectivity affects the health and well-being of society. He is a leading researcher in the Digital Health and Happiness Laboratory (also known as Happy Tech Lab), part of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University. Kushlev provides us with some amazing revelations and points of reflection to consider.

Happiness is definitely a busy term, he thought. “Even we, the researchers who study happiness, recognize that happiness is something that individuals can determine for themselves. But in order to study it scientifically, we need to define it, and most often the way we define happiness is with the term “subjective well-being.”

Kushlev points out that happiness has three components. There is life satisfaction – the cognitive part of happiness, essentially how we value our lives – as well as two types of emotional components (positive and negative feelings) that, when put together, make up our happiness.

Whether we choose to live our lives in a hedonistic way – to experience as much pleasure and positive emotions as possible – or whether we want to live it in a more meaningful and self-actualized way (sometimes called eudemony) is truly at the heart of our happiness.

“But when you look at the data,” Kushlev said, “these two things – eudemonic well-being and hedonic well-being – are very closely linked. For most of us, when we know that what we are doing is meaningful and important, it means having more positive emotions and less negative emotions in our daily lives, thus evaluating our lives more positively. So they are very strongly connected. “

So how does technology improve or hinder our happiness?

“It’s as harmful or just as useful as eating potatoes or wearing glasses,” Kushlev joked.

It can be expected that society should be happier and that we should see positive effects from the use of technology and smartphones. But Kushlev and his research team noted that the net result was close to zero.

“We’re not actually happier at the end of the day,” he suggested with a touch of irony.

Take, for example, Kushlev’s research on various happiness hypotheses and technologies, including displacement, interference, and complementary theories.

What can we do with our time, given that we know that we spend a certain amount of daily effort on our phones? Many of us are amazed at how many hours a day our screen time is when it could otherwise be spent on things like exercise, sleep, or face-to-face engagements in the community. As a result, a guilt-like complex may occur. We choose the phone and displace more useful selections of activities that do not contribute to increasing happiness.

“We know that one of the greatest predictors of happiness is actually spending time with others and especially with friends and family,” said Kushlev. “But when we focus on our phones, not our friends and family, we get less sense of purpose.”

As we begin to open more offices and hybrid work becomes the norm for many – but not all – organizations, the link between technology and happiness must be at the top of the list of issues the leader must address.

“I think what we learned is better personal than virtual,” Kushlev said. “But we’ve also learned that the hybrid model can be quite useful. Research in the hybrid workplace even before the pandemic shows that the hybrid may be the best of both worlds.

Any leader who wonders if technology helps or harms someone’s happiness at work should consider the necessary balance between personal and remote work with the technology itself. As I have stated many times in this column, true happiness – in fact, workplace engagement – is partly a factor in how an organization balances the use of technology with its culture, goal, strategy and face-to-face methods.

See the full interview with Dr. Kostadin Kushlev below or via the Leadership NOW podcast.


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