What happened to relationships and connection?

Have Australians forgotten how to connect with each other?

Have Australians forgotten how to connect with each other?

As part of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) Compass for Life survey, 1000 Australian adults gave responses to a series of questions relating to wellbeing, behaviour and social media.

Overall, the survey found that most Australians feel their lives are meaningful, but the group found to be happiest were older people.

Over the years, many studies on happiness have found that relationships play a crucial role in our happiness and wellbeing.

“People always report they want their relationships and enjoy them, then we act in ways that undermine those relationships,” said Professor Peggy Kern, creator of the survey and researcher at the University of Melbourne.

The problem, however, is that despite knowing how important our relationships are, we’re not properly engaging or being fully present with people as we’re too distracted with other things.

“We're doing 10 other things at the same time, which undermines our connection to them,” said Kern.

While survey respondents aged 25 to 34 scored considerably higher on loneliness and disconnection, older Australians rated better in wellbeing.

Kern said social media and television are also significant factors because they distract us from real, fact-to-face connections with others. “The younger generation is connected to TV and social media. For the older generation, TV didn't exist,” she said.

Technology, along with the influence of advertising, Kern suggests, is also responsible for feeding us misguided messages on what happiness means. Social pressure to keep pursuing material things and reach for unattainable goals means happiness is always just out of reach.

“Advertisers are great at capturing the psychology that keeps us in pursuit ... of a moving boundary,” said Kern.

Opinion: Looking beneath the surface

Are people today more disconnected than ever? It’s often said that we don’t bask in the beauty of the present moment because we’re too busy staring at a screen. But is technology the problem or it is something else?

It’s true that young people spend more time on the internet and social media sites than any other demographic, but it’s not just young people who are disconnected. It’s all of us. And we can’t just blame technology.

Our culture is disproportionally focused on the importance of the individual. This idea is upheld by advertising, which teaches us we must always be self-improving (through the attainment of possessions) and by social media, which gives us a platform to perform this individuality. So, many of us are constantly trying to attain and then prove our happiness.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) study highlights how important relationships are to our overall wellbeing – and how lack of connection can dismantle our happiness.

However, the study also made an unhelpful generalisation. It’s just as unfair to claim that young people connect less in the offline world (because they spend so much time online) as it is to claim that older people are less likely to expand their networks (because they haven’t tapped into the newest technology). If connection and maintenance of relationships is the essential element to happiness, does it matter whether it’s practiced online or offline?

The study also found that the happiest Australians are ones who practice mindfulness and who live in the moment.

Mindfulness, Kern suggests, helps to give meaning to the small things in life that will make us happy. “Too often we take for granted the things that give us pleasure. Mindfulness helps remind us to focus on the good that we have – not the pursuit of things that [don't make us happy],” she says.

When it comes to relationships, it’s about giving your full attention to the person who is with you at the time – whether that’s your spouse, a friend, the cashier at the supermarket or the person sending you text messages.

What do you think? Are Australians less connected now that technology is so present? Can real relationships be maintained online or does real connection involve being physically present?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    9th Nov 2016
    There are two sides to this. I love places, like this site for example. I don't know any of the people on this site and yet I love to read their comments and hear what is happening from the experts and the rest of us. I love Facebook where I have reconnected with all my distant relatives.
    Once you "grow up" its an amazing multimedia form of communication that has replaced the humble letter, the yearly Christmas card and world knowledge base.
    The children however do need to be monitored and overseen as their perceived "anonymity" causes lots of unfortunate social repercussions that may last a life time with a footprint they cannot remove.
    It is the future, children just need to be better educated and monitored. Even if its just the software doing the overseeing.
    9th Nov 2016
    I agree but even older folk are becoming addicted to smartphones and their screens and communicating with Facebook, Messenger and a host of others rather than ringing and/or meeting those we love.
    It's a changing world and nobody has any real idea of where it is all going to end. Not pretty I might surmise given genY as a starting point with a lot more water to go under the bridge. Probably lucky that many of us will be moving on in the near distant future.
    9th Nov 2016
    I notice many people, especially younger ones perpetually on their phones, while walking their dogs, in the car, at the theatre, restaurants and even on the beach. Recently went to a wedding and seven people on a table of ten were constantly on their phones. Number one, this is so rude, absolutely no manners. Number two how would any of these people know what's going on around them? No talking, no noticing their surroundings. This is why so many people have no people skills which I would think makes it difficult to enter the workforce and also to have any type of meaningful relationship.
    9th Nov 2016
    But don't you know margie, if you don't Tweet about it or post it somewhere, it didn't happen!

    9th Nov 2016
    Telephone calls (remissiveness in making): "I was going to phone you, but I just didn't have the chance"' or "Sorry time got away from me". Both are rather unacceptable most of the time. In realistic terms, how long does it take to phone someone?
    9th Nov 2016
    Agree Fast Eddie. It says you are not important enough to the person for them to make time for you.
    9th Nov 2016
    I think we are far less connected now than we have ever been in spite of (or rather because of) all the available technology.

    How many of these have you witnessed (or, tell the truth, actually done)?
    Cashiers (shops, supermarkets, banks etc) being ignored in favour of the phone call
    Parents at parks, on the beach, in shops, at the swimming pool, at school sports events paying more attention to their phones than their child whilst their child literally screams for attention.
    Every single person round a dinner table ignoring each other in favour of scrolling through their phones.
    People viewing events (e.g. NYE fireworks, concerts, weddings etc) through their screens and forgetting to actually live it in the moment.
    being put 'on hold' because there is another call coming in and it is/or maybe more important that you.
    People being bullied and abused by others using their keyboard to hide behind for no other reason than they may disagree
    Being 'stood-up' at the last minute by text because 'something came up' (read: they got a better offer)

    The list is endless. We seem to be in a competition to see who is the 'busiest' or 'most hard done by' , or 'who is having the most fun' (as seen on facebook!) and so on. Meanwhile the human face of connection is missing or ignored. There is no warmth or human kindness from an electronic machine. We have lost the art of communication, we don't listen and hear and we have lost our manners. All this results in what we see now as divisiveness, rudeness, one-upmanship and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO).

    Its not too late just yet. Think how we all pull together in times of crisis (drought, bushfires etc) but it won't be long before even that is only a flickering image on a screen devoid of all compassion, if we don't put technology in its place - a tool to make some things easier and more efficient, not a replacement for real breathing people.
    9th Nov 2016
    Agree entirely with you KSS
    Tom Tank
    9th Nov 2016
    It was postulated in the 18th Century that true happiness comes from helping others. In order to help others one must connect, even briefly with them.
    Modern communications are wonderful but. as has already been pointed out, people are always on mobiles either talking, texting or on social media. That is not really connecting in the true sense of the word.
    True connection requires face to face contact and nothing else substitutes for that.

    Many surveys, since Maslow in the 1940's, have all come to the same end point that happiness is something we all aspire to but needless to say in this Capitalist driven environment we live in that concept has been distorted by equating material possessions with happiness.
    I suspect that as we age and get wiser, along with slowing down, we take pleasure out of our connections thus feel happier because of it. Doing good by helping someone always makes one feel good about themselves and hence happier.
    "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a pretty decent guide to life.
    Nan Norma
    9th Nov 2016
    When waiting to see a doctor I have never been bother about the wait as I always enjoyed chatting to other patients. Recently I had to wait at the hospital. I looked around, and all the patients, bar one, was busy on their mobile phone.
    13th Nov 2016
    I live near a beach and am constantly flabbergasted at the parents who kindly take their kids to the beach but spoil it by starring at the phones instead of quality time with the kids. There will be generation of kids growing up seeking attention 'please look at me!'. Personally I won't get a smartphone because i know the temptation is too great. At least I can walk away from my computer and not carry it in my pocket. I will not join facebook, once a 'friend' asked if I was on facebook, she only lived a couple of minutes away, and I said, if you want to see my face come and visit, she never did, this is sad, when people have no time to visit or catch up but have all the time to post on facebook for the whole world to see, if you don't you miss out. I never know what is going on with other people but I do see the most important ones,family and a few good friends who take the time to visit and phone me. I agree with KSS, well said.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles