I’m a huge fan of Twitter, and last night I was trying to persuade some friends, and later my sister, to give it a try. I think there are many ways in which Twitter can boost your happiness.
As a side note, it’s very appropriate to talk about happiness and Twitter, because the blue bird is the symbol for both. In fact, the blue bird on the cover of my soon-to-be-published book bears some resemblance to a few of the Twitter bird-logos.
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: “When something strikes a spark of interest, follow it.”
But sometimes, you just don’t have time to pursue your passion as much as you’d like. Many of my happiness-project resolutions are aimed at helping me make time for my passion. 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 great food, Mad Men, green technology, college football, knitting, kidlit, writing paranormal erotic romance fiction, Apple -- or, like me, Virgina Woolf's The Waves -- 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 mood boost when you need it. Reading 140 characters takes just a few seconds, but it's enough to re-direct your mood. My current favorites: @borowitzreport and – 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 law – 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 you 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 own stores or restaurants, 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. 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. Speaking of which…
6. Twitter gives you a bully pulpit. I try to persuade people to commit to being organ donors. Through Twitter, I can repeatedly send this message out to a lot of people – and who knows, maybe I persuade some people to act.
7. 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.
8. Twitter lets you feel like you’re in on the current thing, and that’s satisfying. Sure, something may replace Twitter, or it may lose popularity and fade away. Right now, though, a lot of people are using it and talking about it. It’s not possible to keep up with everything new – new music, new video-games, new TV shows, new iPhone apps – but Twitter is easy to use, so it's a good place to start if you want to feel current.
9. Twitter lets you share those funny little observations that float through your head. Some people scoff at Twitter, saying “I don’t want to read about what other people eat for breakfast.” Well, it’s true, people post too much about their airport travails – but in fact, it’s very amusing to read people’s comments on their everyday lives. And it’s even more amusing to think of your OWN comments! 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.
10. 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 to know the PC equivalent for iMovie, and the definition of “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 all ways that Twitter can boost your happiness. Now, Twitter has one major drawback for happiness: it uses up time, and time is in short supply for most of us. It’s true, it’s 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.
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 reading the #twilight stream. That said, it's worth figuring out how to work it into your life.
Once you're on Twitter, follow me at @gretchenrubin.
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