People need people

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If you only read one thing, make it this:

“Online communications are best used when the goal is to organise or enhance real-world connectedness.”


Want to know the real meaning of life? It isn’t exactly a secret. Research is proving over and over again that close relationships – not money or fame – are what protect you against discontentment and bring life-long happiness. Yet some studies show communication in real life is on the decline, meaning face-to-face time (as opposed to just Facetime) is vital for both romantic and platonic relationships.

“The research in this area is new and the findings mixed,” says positive psychologist Dr Tim Sharp, aka Dr Happy. “There are some negative consequences associated with excessive social media use but at the same time, social media and other forms of online interactions allow many to connect better and more often than they otherwise would.

“What most experts agree on is that online interactions shouldn’t really replace real-life interactions. Online communications are best used when the goal is to organise or enhance real-world connectedness and activities.”


Let’s get digital


Dr Sharp isn’t suggesting you throw away your phone to strengthen your relationships. Instead, he recommends prioritising quality time with your nearest and dearest, sans devices.

“One of the simplest and most important ways to manage online or social media use is to set a time limit,” Dr Sharp says. “There are apps that record how much time is spent on various [on-screen] activities, and this shouldn’t exceed two hours per day at the most – ideally, it should be less.”

When you’re spending time with friends, put your phone away. A UK study shows the presence of a phone – even if it’s not in use – when two people are talking interferes with feelings of closeness and connection as well as the way they communicate.

When it comes to family or couple time, set boundaries.

“Ensure certain times are phone and technology free,” Dr Sharp says. “For example, have a rule that phones can’t be brought to the table and make sure you eat together, without the distraction of screens, at least a few times each week – the more, the better.”


Make relationships great again


To enhance your relationships, Dr Sharp recommends asking questions that spark deeper and more meaningful conversations, such as:

  • What was the best thing that happened today?
  • What made you laugh today?
  • What did you achieve today that you feel proud of?
  • What did you find difficult today, and what did you learn?
  • What challenges did you face and overcome today?
  • What are you most looking forward to?
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