I’m a huge fan of Twitter, and I’ve tried to persuade several people to give it a try. (My greatest triumph: convincing my sister to use it. Seeing my sister in my Twitter feed — that makes me very happy.)
We’ve all seen how Twitter can play an unprecedented role in world events and in news communication. But on a very personal, routine level, there are several (other) ways in which Twitter can boost your happiness.
After all, is it just a coincidence that a blue bird is both the symbol for happiness and the symbol for Twitter? Probably yes, I know, but still, it’s a happy coincidence.
1. Twitter allows you to pursue your passion — even if only in your imagination.
A key to a happier life is to have fun – people who regularly have fun are twenty times as likely to feel happy. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi noted in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention: “When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it.”
But sometimes, you don’t have time to pursue your passion as much as you’d like. But if you can’t find the time, or if you’d like to spend even more time on your passion than you do, Twitter is a great source of conversation and ideas. If you love cheese, Mad Men, green technology, college basketball, gardening, kidlit, or just about anything else, you can find other people who are interested in the same thing, day or night. And for that reason, it also makes you happier because…
2. Twitter distracts you if you’re feeling blue.
Studies show that distraction is a powerful mood-altering device. (In fact, men’s greater tendency to distract themselves from bad feelings may be one reason they are less prone to depression than women.) If you’re following a bunch of people whose posts interest you, you can always count on finding something that will catch your attention. It can distract you, and also…
3. Twitter can get you laughing.
If you follow some people who are very funny, you can count on getting a little boost when you need it. Reading 140 characters takes just a few seconds, but it’s enough to re-direct your mood. My current favorite – forgive me, my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder – @HalfPintIngalls.
4. Twitter helps you maintain loose relationships and strengthen strong relationships.
One hot debate is whether technology will change Dunbar’s number – can you really handle more than 150 friends? Maybe not. But whether or not you can have more “friends,” technology certainly allows you to keep a better handle on acquaintances and virtual acquaintances. Far more than ever before, I’m vaguely aware of a huge number of people, some of whom I “know” and some I don’t “know,” and although that sounds overwhelming, it makes my life warmer and richer. Twitter, along with Facebook, blogs, Tumblr, and all the rest, allow me to keep a little connection with lots of people without much effort.
5. Twitter lets you help other people.
Do good, feel good. If you have friends who raise money for a charity, who write books or articles, who perform music, who advocate for a cause, or otherwise want to direct attention someplace – or if you want to help strangers who are doing these things — Twitter lets you shine a spotlight on their activities or on issues that you think are important. I periodically try to persuade people to commit to being organ donors. Writers often say to me, “I don’t want to use Twitter because I don’t want to promote my work all the time.” Fine – so support the work of people you admire! Tweet about them.
6. Twitter lets you conquer a device.
Mastering a new technology — whatever the technology is — contributes to the atmosphere of growth in your life, and that boosts happiness. Because social connections are a key (perhaps the key to happiness), the fact that Twitter technology connects people makes this effect even more intense.
7. Twitter lets you share those funny little observations that float through your head.
In the same way that carrying a camera sharpens your eye, knowing that you can communicate your clever aperçus makes you more observant and wittier.
8. Twitter makes gathering information easier.
If you follow people who share your passion, they’ll help you keep abreast of everything happening in that area. And if you have a general question, crowd-sourcing it to Twitter is a great way to get an answer. When I wanted a suggestion for artists who create miniature scenes, or an explanation for “steampunk,” I got answers right away. Most of all, Twitter is a super-efficient way to find out what other people find interesting.
These are ways that Twitter can boost your happiness. But Twitter also has one major drawback for happiness: it uses up time, and time is in short supply for most of us.
It’s true, it can be used as an efficient way to scan headlines, keep up with passions, and connect with people, but the fact is, it may tempt you to spend too much time using it, or to use it to procrastinate from other, less enticing work. It may eat up your time so that you have less time for face-to-face encounters with real people.
Like most things, Twitter is a good servant but a bad master, and you have to figure out how to keep it under control. No staying up past your bedtime to read your feed. That said, it’s worth figuring out how to work Twitter into your life.
My younger daughter and I were reading the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Nightingale, and it occurred to me that although I’d often read about the nightingale’s song, I had never actually heard a nightingale sing. And here it is! I love the internet.