She said to me “I’m in love”.
That got my attention.
For a moment I had that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from being told that you are your partner’s focused object of human happiness.
But my partner wasn’t talking about me… she was talking about what she had in her hand. Her new Apple iPhone.
It was 2008. Steve Jobs had created an object of desire. 15 years later, Apple has sold 1.5 billion units and has us addicted to our devices.
Since then, the intersection of web technologies, social media, and portable devices has facilitated unfettered access to information, news, and entertainment, wherever there is an Internet connection or mobile reception available.
Our new tools have improved our lives in many ways.
Technology has made things much easier. We can talk to people far away quickly, travel across the world in less than a day, and use tools like Zoom and Google. We also have AI that can write articles, summarize books, and find new ways to improve our health and create medicines much faster than before.
So, longer lives, more productivity, and entertainment on tap.
But there is a problem
Ever sat at a dinner table and everyone has their phone out? You walk down a street and it’s hard to avoid people with their head in their phone. People cross the street with their earpods blocking out the physical world and don’t notice that speeding car.
Happiness is being left behind. Just look at the facts:
- Teenage suicide is double since the advent of social media.
- Politics is now one of polarization and rage.
- The bad actors are using the technology to spam and scam us.
- Productivity has coincidentally dropped at about the same time that social media became popular.
- The AI algorithms are designed by Facebook (and other social media platforms) to sell ads and that means that creating anger and drama and rage get more clicks. Social media is not designed for happiness.
- We scroll through an Instagram feed for hours everyday and see happiness and success everywhere. The shiny outside of others often makes you feel envious and inadequate. We judge ourselves by the shiny polished contrived social media feed of others.
We are allowing ourselves to be used by the tools instead of using the tools. We are connected more than ever but disconnected from each other.
We aren’t happier!
So what does ancient wisdom and research tell us?
Ancient wisdom on happiness
The Greek philosopher Epicurus had some ideas and insights about what made a good and fulfilling life 2,400 years ago. I would call that happiness.
He highlighted three elements:
- The company of good friends
- The freedom and autonomy to enjoy meaningful work
- An “examined life” built around a core faith or philosophy
One of the greatest joys and sources of happiness for me is sitting round a dinner table enjoying conversations with not one mobile phone to be seen. And I am sure I am not alone.
Another crucial element of happiness is having the freedom to pursue my passions and bliss to create something meaningful and significant.
And here I am writing and sharing my meaningful work. It’s not perfection but it is my creation. And I have been doing this since 2009.
What does science say?
Scientific research backs this wisdom of the value and importance of healthy relationships with an 85 year study. This is what they found:
“In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a decades-long study to find out: What makes us happy in life? The researchers gathered health records from 724 participants from all over the world and asked detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet.
The most consistent finding we’ve learned through 85 years of study is this: Close and healthy relationships make us happier, keep us healthy, and help us live longer.”
It seems that science and ancient wisdom agree.
We all have the ability to choose. We either choose to use technology for good. Or we let the tools steal our happiness and humanity.
We are currently running a global social experiment that if unchecked:
- Alienates us from each other. We would rather scroll that have a conversation.
- Separates us from nature. Being distracted by your phone or isolated from the outside world with headphones when you are walking means we are missing hearing the crashing surf and the sound of birds and the wind rustling the trees.
- Chooses and prioritizes the individual over community.
- Remote work that alienates us from our community.
- Artificial Intelligence that reduces or fully automates our creativity, taking your meaning and purpose away.
Shiny toys (or what is called SOS “Shiny Object Syndrome”) are a fun distraction and there to be used but we need to make sure that we are not being abused by the technocracy.
Mark Zuckerberg didn’t design Facebook for the common good, but to make money with advertising from your addiction.
So how can we use technology to make us happier rather than be used by it?
How can we make sure that our eyes are wide open and not wired shut?
How can we design our tools for happiness and for a fulfilling life?
We live in an amazing world but we need to live a considered life.