What Do Happy Teens Do? Hint: It doesn’t involve their phones.

I was surprised to see how closely happiness maps to non-phone activities, and unhappiness maps to phone-related activities.

The author notes that this is a study of correlation, not causation. When I went through moody phases as a teen, I wrote, or worked, or did theater, or church youth group activities.  When I was busy, I had less time to write. When I didn’t feel like going out, and chose to stay home, or for whatever reason had fewer opportunities to go out, I wrote more. The writing didn’t make me depressed, it was just something I did more frequently whenever I spent more time at home.

Likewise, the study doesn’t say that using phones causes teens to be unhappy, just that unhappiness and phone use are correlated.

Jean M. Twenge: "Nearly all phone activities are linked to less happiness, and nearly all non-phone activities are linked to more happiness."The pattern is again clear: Nearly all phone activities are linked to less happiness, and nearly all non-phone activities are linked to more happiness. There are two exceptions, both correlations |.01| or under: TV (sometimes non-phone, sometimes phone) is linked to slightly less happiness, and working at a paid job (usually non-phone) does not correlate with happiness (r = .00). An activity not involving phones but that involves screens, video arcades, correlates .03 with happiness (though I’m not sure most teens even know what a video arcade is anymore, and going to an arcade is usually a social activity).

Take a look at the bottom of the chart: Listening to music shows the strongest correlation with unhappiness. That may seem strange at first, but consider how most teens listen to music these days: On their phones, with earbuds firmly in place. Although listening to music is not screen time per se, it is a phone activity for the vast majority of teens. Teens who spend hours listening to music are often shutting out the world, effectively isolating themselves in a cocoon of sound. —Psychology Today