Unplug Your Way to Happiness

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by Alyssa Delle Palme

Earlier this year, I decided to take a Facebreak. Yes, I did the unthinkable and pulled the plug on the popular social networking website. I needed a mini tech cleanse because I was constantly itching to answer every instant message, respond to every comment, accept every event invitation and poke my virtual friends back. Don’t get me wrong, I think social media is a great tool. It has allowed me to reconnect with old friends, it helps me stay in touch with my college roommates, and it’s responsible for introducing me to the local network of mothers. However, it got to the point when Facebook was becoming a burden that left me feeling unhappy.

Unplug from Crackbook? Yup. Alyssa took a Facebreak.

There were many times when I’d log on for a quick creep only to emerge an hour later wondering where the heck the time had gone. I worried I’d end up on Facebook just out of habit, so I gave my husband permission to change the password on my account to remove temptation. When I told my best friend I quit Crackbook cold turkey, she reminded me that our pregnant friend, Brit, was due any day and I’d be missing out on all the adorable newborn updates and pictures. I’ll admit, I almost fell of the Facebook wagon, but instead I reached out to Brit and we went out for dinner to celebrate the impending arrival of her baby. After the birth of her son, I did miss all the Facebook updates, but it was much more satisfying to visit and hold her beautiful newborn in my arms. My Facebreak was forcing me to be more sociable and it felt good to reach out to friends and family.

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The Director of Ottawa’s Happiness Lab at Carleton University, Professor John Zelenski, says social relationships are a key component to our well-being.

“More often than not, our social interactions are positive and they are likely to put us into positive moods. If you’re online in your pajamas, you’re not putting energy into self presentation the way that you would if you were out and about. There are studies that suggest that when we meet people face-to-face, we put a bit more effort into self presentation and that usually involves working ourselves into a pleasant mood.”

Social media can’t replace physical human contact, and I’m concerned today’s society is so immersed in digital communication that many people are becoming disconnected from real relationships. Zelenski says when we spend quality face-to-face time with other people, it meets a basic need that we have.

“One thing that makes humans unique is that we’re very social. We rely on one another. It really is a fundamental need for us to feel this social connection. We use it for emotional, physical and instrumental support. There is something deep within us that is satisfied when we have strong social bonds.”

During my break from my favourite social media site, I realized it was still difficult to connect with people as they were often interrupted by text messages, emails and phone calls. However, without the time-suck that is Facebook, I did begin to enjoy life more and I had more free time to do the things I love, such as exploring the outdoors with my family. Zelenski says adding nature to your day will make you happier.

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“Spending time in nature is likely to boost your mood. In Ottawa, we’re very lucky to have a lot of great green space nearby.”

Another downside to social media is that it often draws you into others people’s lives and may leave you with feelings of inadequacy. Zelenski says cultivating appreciation for your own life can put you in a good mood.

“We can grumble about the things that aren’t going the way we like or we can take more time to focus on the things that are going well. Write down a couple of good things that happened each day or write a gratitude letter to someone who has helped you.”

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I’m not about to give up social media entirely, but I am on the elusive quest for balance. If I begin to feel my shoulders tense up or the pressure to instantly respond to every message, I will take another Facebreak to relax, reflect and go outside. Unplugging isn’t for everyone, but it’s important to connect with your loved ones without any intrusions. Start small by keeping the family dinner table a sacred place. Turn off your phone and give your children your undivided attention long enough to enjoy a meal together. At first you might find you are itching to check your messages, but you may soon discover real happiness by engaging in the real life relationships that surround you.

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