The Upside of Tech Addiction
What makes you happy?
My hunch is that technology was not the first answer to pop into your head. Perpetual notifications and an ever-full inbox constantly nag for our attention. Rampant misuse of technology hurts our bodies and minds. And no matter how many Facebook likes we get, tech alone cannot love us back.
But with the right tools and strategies, you actually can find happiness through technology. Here are six ways to transform your life for the better — all while actively wired.
While it may seem counterintuitive, digital technology is one of the best tools for developing a meditation practice. Headspace, which bills itself as “a gym membership for your mind,” is a popular Web and mobile platform that helps people find calm and clarity.
Simple instructions are delivered to you in easy-to-follow 10-minute increments that build and change each day. They also throw in some animations to playfully illustrate (and demystify) the practice of meditation. The first ten 10-minute sessions are free, and then a subscription costs $8-13 per month.
For $9.95 per month, Gaiam TV’s live streams of guided meditations are another option for longer sessions. Plus you get access to a variety of meditation teachers with a mix of styles and techniques.
And for those who can’t get a handle on meditation, there’s a new gadget that may be the answer to your thought-scattered prayers: Thync is a head strap that sends targeted electrical currents to your brain for 15 minutes to enhance energy and calm. Sign up for early access and make your brain a test lab for happiness technology.
We spend the equivalent of a workweek each year searching for misplaced items. But with a little help, it's possible for even the messiest people to organize their lives (trust me, I’m one of them).
Perhaps you already use Evernote to collect notes, ensure you never forget anything, and rid your life of Post-it. But if you don’t, I highly recommend it, especially since its note sharing and collaboration capabilities are also constantly improving.
Virtual systemization can also dramatically improve your domestic life. Check out Chore Wars if you want to gamify your weekly duties. And if you need more aggressive motivation, pay $0.99 for the Unfilth Your Habitat app, which offers “terrifying motivation for lazy people with messy homes.” (Warning: In-app, the word “filth” is replaced with the other F word.)
Aggregate for Efficiency
Too many choices make us less happy, making media aggregators another great way to maximize efficiency and eliminate some digital noise. Stitcher is my go-to resource for accessing more than 25,000 news and radio podcasts, all for free. And Feedly lets me access big news sources and small blogs all in one place.
Shopping multiple stores and sites simultaneously eliminates wasted time, so check out ShopStyle or Shop It to Me (where everything is on sale) to search and track brands you love and find the best deals.
Stand for Something
Studies suggest a link between political activism and well-being — but we don’t all have the time for regular rallies and marches. Fortunately, technology can keep you linked to the issues and groups that matter to you.
iCitizen allows you to follow and speak out about legislative issues, track votes and bills, and contact representatives directly. Once you follow an issue, you can see related news stories and rally friends to voice their opinions and show support.
Other tech platforms, like Buycott, funnel your activism through your buying habits. Buycott helps you “vote with your wallet” by supporting causes you believe in via your everyday spending. You choose from a list of categories that matter to you, then scan a product barcode with the app. It then traces the product back to its parent company and reveals how the company stacks up against your causes. Animal welfare, human trafficking, and women’s rights are all on Buycott’s radar — and if you don’t see your particular cause, you can create your own campaign within the app.
Quantify Your Life
Technology is an excellent tool for tracking — and thereby improving — our well-being. The Quantified Self movement, or "self-knowledge through numbers," is a growing group dedicated to using and making self-tracking tools. Their philosophy is that the more we know about ourselves, the more we can fine-tune our existence and become better. If we’re conscious of our bad habits, it’s harder to ignore them.
Fitness trackers are the most popular and ubiquitous, but the options are overwhelming (check out this chart comparing all the latest features).
Mood and happiness tracking is also hot. TrackYourHappiness, one of the first happiness tech tools, is an ongoing research project that lets you identify variables that affect your well-being, including whether you’re alone, the day of the week, even if you’ve had sex. You receive a brief survey that takes a snapshot of what you’re doing and how you feel several times per day for two weeks, then you can choose to repeat it over time to see how your patterns evolve.
A newer entry, urWell, packages that same concept in a free app that helps you make the connection between your happiness and the choices you make about work, play, relationships, and health.
And don’t limit life tracking to your conscious hours. Dream:ON functions as both a dream diary and a tool to influence your dreams. It monitors your movement and plays your pre-selected soundscape at the optimum moment in your sleep cycle — and wakes you at the ideal time in your 30-minute window for maximum dreaming and rest.
Engage in Serious Play
Tech-centric games are not just for kids, and research shows that playing them can actually increase happiness. New apps, like Happify, are blending science with play to create games and activities that retrain your brain to be happier. You choose the tracks you want to focus on — like dealing with stress, finding your calling, or fitness motivation — all of which are designed by happiness experts.
Happify isn’t about the thrill of the moment, either: Its focus is long-term, sustainable happiness. Eighty-six percent of Happify’s users report that they’re happier after using it for two months, so the app’s developers must be doing something right.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.