While cell phones may be considered the modern cigarette, Live Happy—a new iPhone application—may help lighten the addiction. Using a cell phone to tackle cell phone addiction? Sound a bit counterintuitive? It may be a case of fighting fire with fire, but let the experts and the app’s co-developer, UCR psychology professor and author of The How of Happiness Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, explain:
The app (also developed by East Coast-based web and mobile app company Signal Patterns) works by prompting a series of daily activities designed to help boost short- and long-term happiness.
“It’s based on certain scientific studies that show that there are different strategies that people can use to increase their happiness,” says Lyubomirsky. “It’s a great way to prompt people to measure their happiness.”
The application assesses people’s moods and personality then matches those with activities that would elevate happiness using the features of the iPhone in a beneficial way thereby taking the “nicotine” out of cell phone use.
“It’s kind of like a buddy that helps you . . . it’s really fun,” the psych prof says.
Instead of reinforcing bad habits associated with cell phones, the application imposes positive uses of the device from texting “thank you” notes to setting significant goals in life.
“It’s not the technology that people are becoming addicted to,” says Dr. Dave Greenfield, author of Virtual Addiction who works with The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. “It’s the hit of dopamine they get every time they log on, or go on, or use the technology because every once in a while they get something that’s really compelling and positive . . . In other words, they get a hit and that will release dopamine in the brain and the brain likes dopamine and experiences it as pleasure, and that’s what people get addicted to.”
The cell phone, while designed to improve lifestyles, has developed a bad reputation from disrupting personal relationships to isolating individuals from person-to-person interactions. However, as Greenfield explains, it’s not the cell phones people are becoming addicted to, it’s what the technology delivers.
“They’re like slot machines: sometimes you get what you want, but you don’t know when and you don’t know what,” explains Greenfield. “In other words, you are going to keep doing those things and every once in a while you’re going to get an email you really like or you’ll get a text you really like and you don’t know when, you don’t know who and you don’t know what. The fact that it’s unpredictable is what makes it so addictive.”
But unlike real slot machines, these machines are embedded in so many people’s everyday lives. The cure Greenfield recommends is to modify behavior and use.
“So they’re not checking their emails 30 times a day and setting limits to how often they go online to check for things or how often they would check their appointments or emails, basically modifying their pattern of use,” says Greenfield. “The other part is to understand what they’re avoiding in their lives because usually people over-use these technologies in a way that is avoiding something that they need to be doing in their lives that is important.”
The Live Happy application may be a tool towards what Greenfield outlines as a cure to cell phone addiction.
“This application really just allows you to use the phone as a device to help you participate in the world and enjoy your activities,” says Lyubomirsky. “It really allows you to use the iPhone in a way that can increases positive emotions instead of in a way that isolates yourself.”
“I’m not saying we should never use these things because that’s unrealistic,” Greenfield says. “Technology is fun, it’s interesting, it’s a great tool and it can improve productivity. But the things that really make us happy have to do with creativity, our relationships, our health, our family, having love and connection in our lives—that’s what makes people happy. To the extent that technology can be used to remind us to do those things I think that’s great.”