If you find yourself addicted to your phone, you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world check their phones more than 150 times a day.
Do we find something useful every time we check our phones?
The answer is invariably no.
In fact, our constant use of smartphones is making us unhappy.
According to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, smartphone use is bringing on “the worst mental health crisis in decades.”
The problem is that technology companies understand the difference between pleasure and happiness, and manipulate how we use smartphones to make us addicted to the pleasure we get from using them to the detriment of our long-term happiness.
It’s crucial to understand the difference between pleasure and happiness, as explained by Seth Godin in his article on the pleasure/happiness gap.
The difference between pleasure and happiness
Godin referenced the brilliant interview of Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a professor of pediatry at UCSF. It’s worth watching in full below.
For those without the time to watch it, Lustig explains that pleasure is short-term, addictive and selfish. It’s taken, not given and is stimulated by dopamine.
Happiness, on the other hand, is long-term, additive and generous. It’s about giving, not taking, and is stimulated by serotonin.
This is based on our brain wiring, but the problem is that we confuse the two, thinking they are substitutes for each other. But they’re not. Confusing the difference can do serious long-term damage to our general levels of happiness.
As Lustig explains, here are the 7 key differences between pleasure and happiness (as explained by Lustig in the video above). After this, we’ll explain why Silicon Valley has an inherent bias against you understanding this.
1) Pleasure is short lived. Happiness is long lived.
2) Pleasure is visceral. Happiness is ethereal.
3) Pleasure is taking. Happiness is giving.
4) Pleasure can be achieved with substances. Happiness cannot be achieved with substances.
5) Pleasure is experienced alone. Happiness is experienced in social groups.
6) The extremes of pleasure lead to addiction. You can’t be addicted to happiness.
7) Pleasure is dopamine. Happiness is serotonin.
Technology companies sell pleasure in different ways. Take social media platforms, for example. They use provide us with dopamine hits around fear and anger in the short-term to get us addicted to continually checking in on the platform.
On the other hand, you’ll rarely see social media platforms taking a long-term view of your happiness. It’s difficult to monetize. Happiness requires more patience, planning and confidence that the company’s share price will have grown in the long-term.
Why Silicon Valley doesn’t want you to understand the difference between pleasure and happiness
Tristan Harris is a former employee of Google and raised a number of concerns about how technology companies like Facebook and Google manipulate people to make more money in the TEDx talk below.
The entire industry, Harris says, is designed to keep you online. The scary part is that most people think the way content is surfaced inside apps is random.
It’s not, says Harris. In fact, these companies have figured out how to induce pleasure by stimulating dopamine receptors in the brain to keep us addicted to continually going back inside the apps for our next hit.
It’s like being addicted to cigarettes. Having one will only temporarily assuage your craving.
More than ever, our minds are being shaped by technology and media companies that know how to put digital content in front of us through our smartphones. This makes it imperative that we take back control of the media we consume how we use apps in our smartphones.