This Friday, March 20, is International Day of Happiness. The day recognises the importance of happiness and wellbeing for all humans across the globe. In their resolution for the day, the United Nations acknowledged the need for a more equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that places greater importance on happiness.
Wanting to celebrate such a worthy idea, I visited a few websites set up in aid of the day for inspiration. There’s no shortage of them – 24hoursofhappiness.com, dayofhappiness.net and dayofhappiness.com.au, just to name a few.
I was disappointed to discover that these websites suggest I celebrate the day in front of a screen.
They suggest that I can have a #happyday and spread the word about #InternationalDayofHappiness on Facebook or Twitter, or contribute to "taking over the internet with happiness for 60 minutes". I can subscribe to more email clutter and have a happiness activity emailed to me each day for a week. There’s even a list of 24 tweets I can tweet every hour on the hour throughout the day and a 24-hour music video I can watch.
I doubt any of these online activities would nurture happiness or wellbeing – in fact they are more likely to contribute to our overwhelm and disconnect.
Despite being more "connected" than ever before, we're becoming "disconnected" from our homes and our communities.
Halfway through researching this column, some of the websites switched their content from 2014 Day of Happiness to 2015. I was relieved to see a slight shift away from an online focus and greater recognition of the contribution of real-life to our happiness.
A desire to nurture her real-life connections is what motivated Christina Cook, author of The Joy Of Missing Out: Finding Balance In A Wired World to give up the internet for 31 days.
"I knew the internet was allowing me to emotionally disengage from myself and my loved ones. I was living in a constant state of information overload and a vacuum of joy. I had too much information and not enough wonder," wrote Christina.
Christina suggests "our energies, creativity and time – perhaps the best of us – are being spent committed to screens ... And with the help of these devices, we are living in a kind of medicated stupor, muted gray: happy, but not too happy, sad, but not too sad".
I appreciate technology and love that within seconds I can download detailed images of the life cycle of a queen bee, or connect with like-minded people on the opposite side of the globe.
But I want to put technology in its place.
I want to use it as a tool.
I want to connect with the online world for a specific purpose, and then switch off and return to the real world.
"Our digital devices dominate our every day – affecting our work, impacting our intimacy and shifting our thinking. For all the affordances of our new communication technologies, we haven’t established healthy norms or habits as a culture, and it’s costing us our time, creativity, energy and relationships," Christina wrote.
Kicking off my efforts to establish a healthy screen-life balance seems a worthy way to celebrate International Day of Happiness.
My first step is to detox.
Starting tomorrow**, I’ll be staying away from screens for a week. No television, no computer, and I’ll be turning off data on my mobile phone so that it’s just a phone.
I'm guessing I’ll find far more happiness than I would if I’d continued staring at screens all week.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 16th March 2015.
**I had intended to start my screen detox on Monday. But then I realised that trying to detox from screens is similar to embarking on a food detox - it's not sensible to jump in without preparation. My inbox was neglected and overwhelming. My physical space was cluttered. So I paused, took a few deep breaths, tidied, and tackled my neglected inbox. I'm almost ready (I think).
I was looking for recent images that captured happiness for me. These images remind me that creating and being an active participant in life is what makes me happy.
Happiness is ....
..harvesting the honey from our little farm.
..three generations harvesting together.
..learning how to weave a traditional basket - yolngu style.
..Little eco learning how to weave her first basket.
....Finding loads of cherry tomatoes hiding in our abandoned Summer garden.
..A friend giving us an armful of figs.
..A loaf of sourdough ready to go in the oven.
..Not collecting eggs for a day - and feeling rich when collecting two days worth
Passively staring at a screen is a good place to find inspiration - but it's not a good place to find a life.
See you in a week. Perhaps you could switch off for happiness too?