It’s all about screen time
Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University, and cross-posted from Quartz
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…