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Happy or Appy? Finding Joy Outside Your Smartphone

Originally published at Newsmax

Recently, I took my family into town to get dinner.

We live in a small community, in the country, so it’s a bit of an event to go out to dine in the city. Once there, I called around to see what establishments were open.

Before I reached any humans, I was told to visit websites, download apps, and consider ordering online for pickup. One message even hung up on me without transferring me to a person. Finally, I found a place that would take us in and actually feed us.

As we moved through the ordering line, one of the workers wore a shirt that made me chuckle. It said, Use the App  It Will Make You Appy.

My happiness that evening didn’t come from my phone apps, it came from being able to sit down with my whole family while enjoying a meal.

Helpful restaurant employees also made me happy, as did our family sing-along in the car during the ride home.

Now, kudos to the marketing team for coming up with the catchy message. They’re trying to inject a little much-needed humor into the customer experience. And maybe it does make me a bit excited to open the app, scan the rewards barcode, and save a little money on a future visit.

But, true happiness — the kind that is good for our mental health and wellbeing — isn’t found on our phones.

There are actually ways to boost your levels of contentedness, and, you guessed it, they include lowering your interaction with apps. 

Generally, happiness relates to the positive outcomes of our circumstances. Which of course has as much to do with our own outlook and choices as it has to do with external forces which frequently act upon us.

Radio host and author Dennis Prager says we have a moral obligation to be happy.

Why?

For starters, it’s good for us, and just as importantly, it’s good for the people around us.

So how do we engineer our own happiness?

First: We must realize that happiness directly relates to our fellow human beings. The more time we can spend around other people, the happier we’ll be.

Second: Remember it’s a two-way street. They encourage and cheer you, and you honor them by encouraging and cheering them. That takes work, and a commitment to be happy even when you don’t feel like it!

Third: Make as much of your interaction as possible with people face-to-face. Give someone the gift of your beautiful countenance (a fancy word for your face, though traditionally it’s also meant your whole behavior and manners!) as well as your unique voice.

Fourth: take stock of your apps and delete with abandon. How many apps do you currently have sitting on your smartphone? Don’t bother counting them all — your phone’s settings should tell you. I have 391 apps on my phone.

Of those, only 45 have been opened in the last week, and only 20 of those 45 were used for any measurable timeframe. That means I should literally delete 90% of the apps I have installed on my phone. I’m going to do that this week.

Please feel free to join me.

I know exactly why they’re all there, of course. Some years back, I had a habit of jumping on the app store and browsing for new apps. That must have been before I had four kids.

Personally, I think I was on a misguided quest to find “tools”that would boost my productivity and mental health. In the end, it wasn’t apps that did those things. It was me being inspired by people around me (loved ones, friends, mentors, role models) and making the right choices myself.

There’s much to be said for “thinking before you app.”

What would you think if you caught up with a good friend or associate for a chat, and when you sat down they pulled out one of those IQ puzzle games, looking at it intently and fiddling with it while they offered an occasional “uh-huh”?

Rude, right?

These days, it seems we’ve trained our brains to be hyperalert for the next vibration or ding crossing our phones. But when we’re in the company of other people, they deserve our full, undivided attention.

Our phones should be off, in the next room, or back at home.

You can also treat yourself to your own undivided attention!

Prior to every task, think of this first: “How can I rely on my own superpowers and avoid using my phone?” It may take a little longer and add a few extra steps, but hard work is good for us, and yes, it can make us happy. Turns out the more easy and convenient life gets, the unhappier we become.

Theologian J. I. Packer once said, “the way to be truly happy is to be truly human.”

Let’s do more of both in 2022. There is absolutely no app for that.

We’ve got to do it the old-fashioned way; the survival of our humanity depends on it.

Andrew McDiarmid

Senior Fellow, Media Relations and Assistant to the Director
Andrew McDiarmid is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. He also serves as a Media Relations Specialist and Assistant to CSC Director Stephen C. Meyer. He holds an MA in Teaching from Seattle Pacific University and a BA in English/Creative Writing from the University of Washington. His tech column at Newsmax, Authentic Technology, explores today's technology landscape and encourages readers to live authentically in the digital age. His writing has appeared in the New York Post, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, The American Spectator, The Federalist, Real Clear Politics, Technoskeptic Magazine, and elsewhere. In addition to his roles at the Discovery Institute, he is host of the Scottish culture and music podcast Simply Scottish, available anywhere podcasts are found.