Although people define digital well-being in many ways, digital well-being is generally thought to be the extent to which our digital lives help or hurt our well-being. So, digital well-being can involve the physical tools we use to manage the amount of time we spend online, the behaviors we decide to engage in while online, and the emotional tools we use to manage our experiences online.
Physical Tools for Digital Well-Being
Google’s Digital Well-Being App is one tool that can help people better understand how they spend their time online and how to disconnect more often. It shows you how often you use different apps, how often you check your phone, and it allows you to set limits that can help protect your sleep and focus. Knowing your current digital habits is a good step in understanding yourself.
Setting limits can indeed be helpful for well-being. If digital well-being tools’ primary purpose is to help us be on our phones less, this means that it has an inherent assumption that more digital interactions lead to worse well-being. And the research doesn’t quite support this assumption. Set a timer for watching those cat videos on Instagram!
Although movies like The Social Dilemma point to clear problems with the ways in which Internet apps are being developed, these leave out important information that can help you better improve your digital well-being. Indeed, app designers are trained in psychological techniques that get users addicted and reliant upon these apps for a sense of connectedness, emotion regulation, and just surviving in the modern world. This can be especially problematic for those prone to addictions and can significantly hurt the well-being of some people.
But the research shows that some apps improve well-being for some people, and in some circumstances. In fact, Hopelab published a fascinating study showing that youth who suffer from depression benefited from accessing other people’s health stories through blogs, podcasts, and videos. Overall, research reviews suggest that technology use is not bad for all and not bad in all circumstances.
Behavioral Tools for Digital Well-Being
Given the research, behavioral and emotional tools are likely also useful for enhancing digital well-being. In other words, we need to choose to avoid apps or experiences that make us feel bad and instead choose to engage with apps and experiences that make us feel good. If Google’s Well-Being App helped us understand how different apps affected our well-being, that would be a far more effective tool. But for now, we’ll have to make use of the information out there, be introspective, and self-reflect on how our digital time is spent, and make the right decisions for us.
Emotional Tools for Digital Well-Being
Many of the emotional tools we need for digital well-being are the very same emotional tools we need for real life. We just need to apply them in our digital lives. Here are some specific tips:
Be More Mindful
When we’re more mindful of how we live our digital lives, we pay more attention to our experiences and emotions, and also to others. This heightened awareness can help us make decisions that help us better appreciate the good and manage the bad. It can also keep us from falling down the rabbit hole and spending WAY too much time online instead of experiencing what is right in front of us.
Focus on Others
When we are on social media, we tend to focus mostly on ourselves—our feelings, opinions, and experiences. But heightened self-focus can actually amplify negativity. Paying attention and being kind to others are fulfilling ways to boost our own well-being and theirs too. This means avoiding engaging with apps or social media in the presence of others. You know what I mean, that time you were at the dinner table tweeting? Checking your email in the middle of a meeting? Be present, not absent, and give the respect your companions deserve.
Look for the Good
While online, try to look for the good things or the silver linings. If you find something positive, consider sharing it with others (#SilverLinings). Practicing this skill both on and offline can help you improve your well-being. I created the hashtag #peoplearegood and use it to share stories that reinforce the goodness in humanity around the world. There are many others on topics like kindness, and gratitude to lift your spirits.
Practice Gratitude Online
Our digital lives are a great place to practice gratitude. It’s fantastic for well-being, and we can practice it both on and offline. Practice gratitude with gratitude journaling apps, share your gratitude in texts, or create a gratitude collection on Pinterest. Make a habit of sending a different person you appreciate a short note of gratitude each day!
The amazing things people post on social media can make us feel bad about ourselves. Maybe we don’t feel attractive enough, smart enough, or popular enough. To fight the negative self-talk, remind yourself that most people only show the brightest high points in their lives on social media. The lows, the self-doubt, the losses don’t pop up nearly as much, and our negative bias toward our own selves can help us to only see the good in everyone but ourselves! Try to spend more of your digital life doing things that boost self-esteem (like learning skills or creating something and sharing it) and less time pouring over what everyone else is doing.