Being online for too long tears your life away.
For me, it starts to feel like I’m floating in a sea of other people’s perspectives, political opinions, and inside jokes. It’s as if everyone else’s life became a part of my life, and they all showed up uninvited.
Because modernity has made it so that almost everything we do takes place online, it’s easy to feel like your life has been invaded by the rest of the world and hooked up to a grid without your permission.
But, if you’re mindful, you can take back control without returning to the analog age. If you don’t manage your relationship with the digital world, the 24-hour news cycles and your aunt’s minion memes on Facebook will come to, subtly, define your life. Here’s how to save your happiness from a digital world:
Give Structure to Your Online Time
If there is anything that defines the internet it’s instant gratification.
You get what you want when you want it. But what do you get when you fill every boring moment with distraction?
When I would spend my workdays sneakily watching videos and memes on my phone, everything started to blend. There was less distinction between work and relaxation. Coming home from work didn’t bring me as much relief, and my evenings were filled with the same mindless scrolling.
If you make a specific plan about when you’ll allow yourself to watch a movie, or play a videogame, or laugh at memes, you restore the significance of those activities. They will feel more earned.
Giving structure to your internet time gives you things to look forward to. It also saves you from binging and aimless wandering, which can be rough on your mental health.
Define Your Relationship With the Digital World
What’s your relationship with all this?
Do you use the internet or do you live on the internet? If you feel like a permanent resident, digital minimalism is what might save you. Here’s the definition of digital minimalism according to Cal Newport:
A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
If you can’t define your values, you won’t know how you should spend your time. And if you don’t know how to spend your time, your time will be consumed by people vying for your attention on the internet.
To practice minimalism, Newport recommends fasting from optional technology for one month. Once you recognize the difference this makes in your life, you get to reassess and decide what’s worth keeping from that point on. Odds are, you won’t keep much.
Talk to Strangers (In Real Life)
We have all heard about how isolating internet culture is.
Our phones are an easy escape from awkward situations and most people would rather die than speak to the person next to them. But our tendency to isolate is the opposite of what makes us happy.
Back in 2014, psychologists in Chicago carried out a study called “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude.” The researchers wanted to know if striking up a conversation with a stranger on a morning bus/train commute would increase or decrease happiness. Most participants predicted that talking to a stranger would make their morning commutes less pleasant.
It turned out that not only were their commutes more pleasant, but almost all strangers responded warmly.
I’ve experienced this myself. If I can eke out a conversation starter like, “Hey, cool shoes”, when all I want to do is shut down socially, my mood lifts. Especially if the other person responds genuinely.
Even if we think we’ll hate it, talking to people can enhance our mental health. When you’re around others, the options are always this: Stare at your phone and drown in an infinite feed or take a chance at being happy.
Know What You Can Control
A main tenant of Stoicism is that you should only focus on things you can control.
The minute something horrible happens in the world, the internet brings it to our attention. Being constantly fed bad news gives us the false impression that the outside world is hostile, the people around us are evil, and the end is always near.
If we have to carry the world’s problems around with us in our pockets, how are we supposed to be happy? Doomscrolling (habitually consuming negative news) puts us in a state of constant low-grade anxiety and makes it difficult to be present in any situation.
I’m not suggesting that you stop caring about what goes on, but you need to recognize that you can only control your own life. You need to care about yourself enough to filter out the things that bog you down.
Pumping misery through your head isn’t what makes you a “well-informed and responsible citizen.” If that’s what you want to be, then read books, skip the panic porn, and be good to the people around you.
Keep Your Consumption Positive
I used to be a chronic Reddit user. The subreddits I followed were mostly mindless and upsetting. The comments were infuriating, but all the engagement turned me into an addict. I lost hope in humanity daily.
Underneath all the garbage, the pain, and the insanity, you can also find inspiration, humor, and beauty on the internet. If the web is a window to life, then we can see both the ugly and the amazing.
If you’re going to use social media, follow accounts that bring you hope and motivation, and unfollow accounts that always seem to ruin your day. Tailor your algorithms to bring you the good in the world.
If it’s not informing you, inspiring you, or entertaining you, then maybe it’s not good for you. And if you have an Instagram, just follow The Rock, and no one else. You’ll be fine.
The People vs. The Digital World
The digital world is a tricky demon. People change their lives in spectacular ways because of what they discover online.
But if we’re not careful, it can absorb us. The internet is a wild horse we need to break. It needs to serve us, not consume us.
To find happiness in the digital landscape, here is what you can do:
- Be deliberate with your internet use and build it into your schedule.
- Define what you value most and let everything else fall away.
- Make social connections in the real world. They’re what make you feel alive.
- Be a Stoic and remember that you can only control your own actions, not the chaos going on elsewhere.
- Make sure the content you are consuming adds value to your life and is not making it worse.