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.
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?