“826 Napkins Will Never Be Enough”

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…wrote Garth Callaghan to his daughter, Emma. Callaghan has cancer (again) and is racing to write enough napkin notes — over 800 — to put into her lunches until she graduates from high school (which will likely be after he’s gone). Napkin Notes: Make Lunch Meaningful, Life Will Follow is the book, and soon there will even be a movie to inspire us to make the most out of every single precious day we have.

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Watch this and maybe you’ll be moved to write a napkin note to someone you love.

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips For Avoiding Phone Creep

happier-jump-starts-100514I did a piece not too long ago on healthier connectivity—and a lot of those tips apply to your phone, too, but that little world-in-your-hand device holds a special place in the annals of hang-on-just-a-second-wait-whoops-what-did-you-say-I-was-distracted. It’s super-easy to check your phone here, there, and everywhere… and then to get sucked into email, games, social media, and everything else.

I’m a big fan of my smartphone—don’t get me wrong—but I do a few things to keep it in its place, so that it doesn’t take over my life. Here’s a few ideas to try:

Have a ridiculous, brightly-colored phone case. That thing where you try to just sneak your phone out someplace where you really shouldn’t? It’s a lot harder to do when your phone is hot pink. Or neon orange. So this is what I do to help make sure I’m not taking out my phone when I shouldn’t.

Take away the time-sucks. Everyone has their own favorite games to play on their phone, but if you know you’re prone to getting lost in them, ditch ’em. I leave the “just a few more minutes” games on my tablet, so that I have to be more intentional about playing them. It means I’m less likely to get sucked in at random times.

Don’t push it. Unless you’re a super-important person (maybe you are; I don’t judge), you probably don’t need push notifications enabled for your email. And I would say that no one needs push notifications on their social media like Facebook and Twitter. Want to use them on your phone? Great. But turn off those notifications. (Not for Happier, though. Leave those ones on. Ha!)

Unless you’re waiting on health/safety news from a loved one, put it to bed when you go to bed. Yep, I covered this one before. It bears repeating. The world will continue without you for 6-8 hours, I promise.

Etiquette is etiquette. Would you have a phone conversation while simultaneously talking to someone else? Of course not; it’s not only difficult, it’s rude. So why do we feel like it’s okay to text and talk, or check email and talk? Pretend your phone is, you know, a phone (even if you’re not using it for “phone” things) and just ask yourself, “Is this an appropriate time for me to be on the phone?” It really can be that simple.

Keep your phone working for you, rather than ruling you, and you’ll be happier.

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips For Healthier Connectivity

happier-jumpstarts-091414One of my teenagers recently asked me how we found out the answers to everyday questions when I was a kid. “You know, before you had Google.” The idea that once upon a time you couldn’t whip out a device to figure out who that guy in that commercial is strikes them as foreign. When I explained that some of those burning questions simply remained unanswered—and others had to wait for the library to open—the pity in the room was palpable.

So yes, modern information availability and computer power are wonderful things, but as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Some of what we think makes us happier when it comes to digital involvement is, in fact, making us less happy. A few quick pointers should help keep you on track.

For a more productive day, never start with email. Most of us get on our email first thing in the morning, even though we know it’s a black hole of distraction. I love Sid Savara’s explanation of why it’s a bad idea, and switching to an “accomplish one big task before touching email” approach made a huge difference in my overall productivity. Try it!

Do as much in person as possible. It’s easy to fall into that trap of saying/doing things online you wouldn’t do in person; it’s happened to the best of us. Even when we remember good online etiquette and avoid this pitfall, many of us begin to prefer online interaction as easier, which leads to social isolation and other relationship damage, even as we perceive ourselves to be “very social.” There’s no substitute for real human contact when it comes to our happiness.

For better sleep, turn off devices (and take them out of your bedroom). It’s clear that engaging with a glowing electronic device prior to bedtime is disruptive to sleep; the research on this is unanimous. What’s less clear is whether this applies to all glowing screens (including the television, which is arguably more passive than email or gaming), and how long before planned slumber one should turn everything off. At a minimum, experts suggest stowing electronics an hour before you plan to sleep, and also that just having devices in your bedroom is likely to cause potentially sleep-disrupting hyper-vigilance for text messages and such.

Have rules for the whole family. Many parents bemoan their kids’ dependence on technology, but behave similarly (it’s just that we’re “working” while they’re texting). Decide as a household what is and isn’t acceptable, and then hold everyone to those rules. In our house, for example, phones and other devices aren’t allowed at the table when we’re eating, and that goes for kids and adults. We also have an “electronics bedtime.” What rules make sense for your family are your call, but do take the time to consider what you value and how to best implement it.

Make a point to unplug now and then. Connectivity is part of our world, now, and I personally use it for everything from work to keeping tabs on my kids. I’m not knocking it! On the other hand, the occasional day when we leave phones behind and go on a long hike or otherwise just commit to spending time together, in the moment, distraction-free, are pretty much my favorite thing. Unplugging periodically not only makes us happier, it’s a good barometer of the healthiness of your relationship with technology, too, so that you can make adjustments if needed.

So enjoy your gadgets and the ability to find information, look at cute kittens, and reach loved ones across the world… but moderation and mindfulness can be part of that, too.