Learn about digital well-being and how to boost your own.
Although people define digital well-being in different ways, digital well-being generally is 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.
And setting limits can indeed be helpful for well-being. But if a digital well-being tools' primary purpose is to help us be on our phone 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.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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 amplify negativity. The research shows that other-focus and prosocial behavior (kindness towards others) are fantastic ways to boost well-being. So when you're online, try to focus more on doing activities that are kind.
3. Find the Good Things
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.
4. Practice Gratitude Online
Gratitude is 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. Our digital lives are a great place to practice gratitude.
5. Cultivate Self-Esteem
The messages people post on social media can sometimes make us feel bad about ourselves. Maybe we don't feel attractive enough or popular enough. To fight these negative messages, try to spend more of your digital life doing things that boost self-esteem (like learning skills or making content) and less time pouring over what everyone else is doing.
Digital well-being is now an important part of overall well-being. Knowing how to improve it and taking action to improve digital well-being is essential.
Rideout, V., & Fox, S. (2018). Digital health practices, social media use, and mental well-being among teens and young adults in the US.
Verduyn, P., et al. (2017). "Do Social Network Sites Enhance or Undermine Subjective Well‐Being? A Critical Review." Social Issues and Policy Review 11(1): 274-302.
Ingram, R. E. 1990. “Self-Focused Attention in Clinical Disorders: Review and a Conceptual Model.” Psychological Bulletin 107 (2): 156–176.