You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.Elizabeth Gilbert – Eat, Pray, Love
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You must think I’m lying. Or joking. Maybe both? Fortunately for both of us, I am not. How to be happy has a lot of difficult solutions, but this answer is very simple: filter your media usage.
I can hear you question me. Yes, I said it. You can become a happier person by filtering your media usage.
I know many people have very different answers for your happiness, and of course, there are many things you can do. But this one thing will definitely have a huge impact.
Let me tell you why, and how you do it.
So lately, my friends and I have been talking about the types and amounts of media we use and how it influences our lives.
When I decided I wanted to get out of my sad phase, the first place I started was my iTunes playlist. It caused a big difference in my mood.
A couple of years ago I watched Uptown Girls and felt off for the next 2 days after the little girl’s dad dies.
A while ago, I didn’t feel like myself again. I was more aggressive and angry, more easily irritated and couldn’t figure out what happened. After about a month, it dawned on me that I’d been watching The 100. A show that has a lot of death and violence. I stopped watching The 100, switched to a comedy show, and felt a lot better in no time at all.
It was easy to be happy once I wasn’t constantly exposed to negativity.
My friend told me how she and her boyfriend would watch Peaky Blinders before bed, a show that has been classified as crime, action and drama. She told me that her boyfriend had nightmares and was aggressive in his sleep. They switched from Peaky Blinders to Modern Family, and all the sleeping problems were gone as quickly as they showed up.
I was intrigued…
As the average consumer spends 2 hours and 22 minutes of their day on social media, and 5 hours and 4 minutes of television per day, the time we spend with our phones, computers and televisions has become a full-time job.
We spend a third of our lives taking in media, and this isn’t even including the time we spend listening to music, podcasts or the radio.
It is believed that the subconscious stores everything we see, feel, hear, experience somewhere in our brains, and a lot of research has supported this idea.
Great, now how do I do this?
How to be happy: through watching less television
The amount of research on the relationship between how much television we watch and our mental health is overwhelming. And while some of them contradict each other, most of the studies agree that it is a negative relation.
For example, one research has stated that the link between tv and aggressive behaviour is almost as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer. Another research concluded that adults who watch 1 to 3 hours of TV per day are 60% more likely to get into a fight or commit a crime. These numbers were even higher for those who watched more than 3 hours a day!
Another result of the aggression and violence we see on TV is that we are less affected by violence happening in our real lives. It starts to become ‘normal’. Even worse, we can actually start to enjoy violence.
Finally, a study following its participants for 25 years found that 45% of the men who watched more than 3 hours of TV when they were 14 would commit an aggressive act against another person, compared to only 9% of those who watched less than 1 hour. More than 20% of this group would even commit robbery, threaten to injure another person or use a weapon to commit a crime.
As for depression, the studies are less unified. However, there are many studies that confirm the idea that media consumption could contribute to depression.
For example, a study among 3201 US adults found that spending more than 4 hours of screen time puts you at a higher risk of developing depression, while more than 6 hours is associated with moderate or severe depression. Keep in mind that this is screen time to spend outside of work or school.
Another study found that there was a relationship between playing video games and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Additionally, there are findings that show a connection between the playing of online multiplayer games and feelings of anxiety negative mood, as well as sadness and suicidality.
In reverse, a different study found that people that defined themselves as happy, watch one hour less than people who suffer from depression.
I strongly encourage you to reconsider the television you watch.
If you want to watch something, watch a comedy! Something uplifting that will leave you in a better mood. Or at least, doesn’t put you in a bad mood.
Neuroscientist Scott Weems even suggests that comedy is 3 times more effective than meditating when we feel stressed.
If you’ve read all this and think: ‘’I’m not affected by that” I challenge you to go change all your usual shows to something light and happy and tell me it didn’t make a difference. It is so much easier to be happy when you surround yourself with happy things.
How to be happy: Social media
I think we don’t even need research to tell us that social media can make us feel self-conscious, lower our self-esteem and make us jealous of other people’s lives.
Indeed, a comparative study of 20 papers confirmed that scrolling or posting on Instagram related to negative thoughts about our bodies.
Another study also confirmed the relation between the usage of social media and body image concerns and eating disorders.
But, the things we look at can also have a positive impact.
First of all, one study showed three groups of girls #fitspo, self-compassion quotes, or a mix of these. The girls who saw the self-compassion quotes were nicer to themselves and felt better about their bodies. For those who saw a mixture of the two, the positive effects of the quotes were stronger than the negative effects of the #fitspo content.
A different study showed that girls who were exposed to #bodypositive content were more satisfied with their bodies. However, in follow-up questions they still objectified their bodies. When asked to state 10 things about themselves, they made more statements about their appearance than about other traits.
As you can see, you can also carefully select the things you see on your feed and make yourself feel better by following accounts that promote a positive message.
Do they make you feel good or bad about your body? Do they make you laugh? Do you look at their content or always scroll past? Ask yourself how their content impact you and unfollow if necessary.
I also noticed my perception shifted when I changed my ideas from: “why does she have that, I want to have that too’’ aka jealousy, to “if she has that, that means it’s available for me too!” aka inspiration. As we learn from the law of attraction, you should never think in terms of lack, but always in terms of abundance.
Be inspired by what others have, and be happy for the things they have. Chances are they have worked hard for them. Looking at the accounts as sources of inspiration instead of jealousy has changed a lot for me, and I think it’s worth a try. I have also written an article on social media and mental health specifically, which you can check out here.
Limit screentime. Use the limits you can set on Instagram or your phone
If you’re not sure you can limit your own media consumption, let these apps do it for you! There are so many apps available that will help you limit how much time you spend on specific apps. Instagram has its own limit built-in, or you can program it into the screentime app of your iPhone.
I have used both screentime to limit Instagram to 30 minutes, and downtime so essentially block all apps between 8 and 8. It’s not foolproof as you can easily unblock it, but at least it makes you more conscious about the amount of time spent on an app.
I have also heard good things about Feedless, an app that blocks out the feed on your Instagram and Facebook app.
If you don’t trust yourself with app limits, delete the apps and only reinstall it when you really need it.
For Google chrome, I have used StayFocusd, an extension that you can use to limit your time on websites.
How to be happy: by changing your music
As I mentioned, clearing out my playlist made a huge difference for me, I also looked into the science behind that. Music is an outlet for many people, and a lot of emotions can be found in songs. Similar to when someone tells you a happy or a sad story, the emotion is contagious and you are likely to start feeling the same way.
I was listening to a lot of sad songs but didn’t make the connection. Once I changed my music I didn’t even have to make a conscious effort to be happy, it just happened.
According to one study, music not only affects our mood but also affects how we see things. They did a study where they let participants listen to happy and sad songs. Meanwhile, they showed them images with black/grey/white noise, and a smiley camouflaged in them. Kind of like those colourblind tests where you have to detect the number.
The participants had to listen to the songs and say whether the smiley was happy or sad. Generally, the participants identified the happy/sad smiley more accurately when the smiley was in line with the music (sad smiley with sad music, happy smiley with happy music). What’s more, they detected happy smileys when listening to happy music, even if there wasn’t a smiley! Music impacted their perception of the world.
In another research comparing 26 different studies, researchers found a decrease in depression rates among people who participated in music intervention therapy. The studies used classic, percussion, jazz and other types of music.
Clear out your music playlists
As said, music contains a lot of emotion. As humans have empathy, you are likely to be affected by this emotion. Wouldn’t you then rather pick a happy song and share that happy emotion? Delete all the sad or angry songs. Leave yourself with songs that make you feel happy.
Sometimes I will also screen the lyrics of songs to make sure I’m not listening to anything I don’t want in my thinking pattern, which is an even more thorough way to keep this influence at bay, but this can also be a bit time-consuming. Taking out the sad songs is a great place to start, and I am sure it will already make a big impact on how you feel.
So how to be happy?
By clearing all the negative media out of your life.
Not being confronted with negativity or violence all day will make such a big impact on your mood.
I encourage you to give it a try for a week or so, and let me know how it went. I’m so curious to hear your stories!