That Screen Is Stealing Your Joy


If it’s this hard for you to get off that smartphone, imagine the effects of constant access to screens and social media on the brain of a developing preteen. Imagine navigating the self-conscious years while actually being rated by your peers with the presence or absence of comments and likes.

Research studies show it, and you already know it’s true. That screen is addictive. You stare at that screen for hours. Scrolling, scrolling.

Whatever you’re looking for on that screen isn’t there. Happiness? A moment to yourself? Relaxation?

Staring at your phone is making you unhappy.

You just want to take a moment. So you pick up that little screen. It seems to work at first. Those funny memes and cat videos give you a chuckle. But then the funnies aren’t so funny after a while. And yet you keep scrolling along, trying to entertain yourself.

Then come the political posts. You make the mistake of reading the comments. Your faith in humanity shaken, you keep on scrolling.

You put the screen down, only to pick it back up mindlessly. An hour passes. Maybe you have the brief conscious thought: I need to put this stupid device down. Yet even after another attempt or two to put it away, you continue picking it back up.

Maybe later you’ll post a photo, and then refresh your screen again and again for likes. If all goes as planned, you’ll get the likes. Yet it still won’t be very satisfying. After watching the post for a few minutes, you’ll get bored and put it down again, only to pick it back up.

You catch yourself checking the notifications in the middle of dinner, or while having a conversation with someone you love. You’re missing what’s happening right in front of you because you keep glancing at the screen, losing the connection to the person in front of you in real life.

The more you use social media, the further down into it will go. And then the worse you’ll feel.

You ask: Why am I doing this? already knowing the answer. Each time you find a little bit of information that grabs your attention, your brain gets a hit of dopamine. Each new post- whether it’s humorous or outrageous- grabs on to your attention for just a moment and triggers a tiny reward in the brain. Those notifications? They’re even stronger. The little numbers 1, 2, 3... those pull your attention in rapidly and give you the feeling that you have something important to take care of.

More minutes pass where you fail to see the people right in front of you.

There is a biological effect on your happiness when your brain wants more hits of dopamine. You become irritable and impatient. Your brain’s reward center wants a fix. And then there’s the psychological drain of knowing that you’re wasting your time and energy on social media, and you’re feeling more and more disconnected from things that are more important. You end up feeling guilty and more than a little bit disgusted with yourself.

For yourself, it’s time to get off the smartphone and examine this pattern. If you choose to come back, perhaps you need to manage your use differently (if you can). There are tools to measure how much time your downing on screens, or there are timers that only allow for a preset amount of time. Whatever you choose, it’s time to take a look at how social media is affecting your overall happiness. 

Posted on September 30, 2019 .