Unlike the Cyberdyne Corporation from The Terminator, we don't have to wait for Facebook to go sentient and start taking over the world by making decisions for us.

We're already doing that ourselves.

According to a recent study, psychologists have found that Facebook could be increasing our levels of unhappiness.

If this sounds like something you think people have cooked up to crowbar you off Facebook, there is science behind it that confirms what we've known for a while: we need to start creating boundaries between technology and ourselves.

banning technology

Study leader Dr Ethan Kross, from the University of Michigan in the US, said: "On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result - it undermines it."

Quite sobering, isn't it?

What seems like a harmless interaction is actually chipping away at the time you could be spending with your loved ones, and more importantly, is feeding a culture of 'compare and despair' which Hay House author Louise Presley-Turner says is where we look at the lives of other people and envy them, rather than being happy with what we've got.

So, what can you do about it?

The first step is always the hardest.

Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology and director of mindfulness at Oxford University says: "I think the first thing is to acknowledge how difficult it is to switch off from technology. Although the technology is new, it is tapping into ancient needs and motives - and these are part of who we are.

"Secondly, all of us have a built-in need to communicate. Friends are the most important source of well-being, so we are naturally ‘tuned in’ to what others think of us. This tuning is there because it is so important, but has this downside. The same process that can bring so much rich satisfaction and support can bring disappointment, comparison, shame, embarrassment and abandonment. Friendship has always been like this, and the new technology has only given a new expression to an old feature.

happiness

"What I am saying here is that we need to understand the power of an e-mail or Facebook alert. It has the same psychological status as someone waving to us in the street - we have evolved to notice it, and to respond to it. This is why it is so difficult not to respond. The result is that even if we have resolved not to look at our e-mails or Facebook, if we by chance glance at them, we find it virtually impossible to ignore."

Susie Pearl: The average user is spending around 20 hours a month just on Facebook.

How can you tell whether you're on Facebook too much?

There is no absolute right or wrong, but Susie Pearl, happiness activist and HuffPost UK blogger says: "Monitor it for 3 days and find out. It will surprise you for sure how many times you check your phone and social sites. When you look at all that time spent every day, think about what else you could do with that time to make your life better and happier. Many of us don't realise how much time we take up watching for messages. When you add it all up over a year - that's a very long time."

She adds: "Social media is accounting for around 20% of time spent online and this figure is growing. And, recent studies show that people using social networks say they spend an average of 3.2 hours a day every day. That's a lot of time. You could write a book, learn a language, get a new skill or live your life in the outside world in that time."

When asked we asked users whether they felt Facebook was making them unhappy, we received the following responses, and others were overwhelmingly in favour of staying online.

Shirley Ng said: "People who are less happy after using Facebook is not following the right people and pages. I love hanging out on Facebook when I need a break from my offline activities. My Facebook feed is full of positive messages and I smile as I read everyone's posts about love and kindness. It's like charging my own battery!"

Persephone Ingram: "FB keeps me up-to-date with the issues that concern me personally and ethically. It's the best at what it does. It's invaluable."


Jader D Avila said: "i would be on google plus. i use both as news feed. the internet keeps me in touch with the people and ideas that i love. i dont feel alone or isolated. on the contrary."

But, Mark Williamson, director of Action For Happiness - a movement dedicated to making people happier - says that Facebook and other social media sites distract us, which means we don't give other things our full attention. I can certainly say I'm guilty of that on an hourly basis.

brain distracted

"Facebook often distracts us and research shows that when our minds are constantly distracted, we're not only less effective at what we're doing, it also makes us less happy. If you can't face switching off Facebook completely, try setting aside specific times when you'll just focus on Facebook – but then switch off and give other things (and people!) your full attention the rest of the time."

For a lot of us, it's a question of what then fills that time. It sounds silly, but we've gotten so used to checking social media, that like an addiction, it's not unheard of to feel withdrawal symptoms.

GOOD published a very interesting piece on the detriments of too much technology, adding that when scientists took a brain scan of technology addicts, the brain shape was similar to drug and alcohol addicts.

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  • Phone Bans For Certain Times Of The Day

    "See if you can build in technology-free times into each day," suggests Mark Williams. "See if these times can be used to do something that either gives a sense of pleasure (such as being with friends without a phone, or reading a favourite book or magazine), or a sense of mastery (such a tidying your desk for 15 minutes, or cooking using a new recipe). "While doing so, notice the tendency during any breaks to check for messages or posts. Notice what your sensations in the body feel like at these times, see if you can ‘surf the urge’ rather than give in to it, and if you must check, see if you can leave it for 10 or 15 minutes before you actually do."

  • Acts Of Kindness

    You may think you don't have the time to be kind or thoughtful to someone you know, but what about that extra time you're spending online? Mark Williamson says: "Make someone else happy – do random acts of kindness, offer to help, give away your change, pay a compliment or tell someone how much they mean to you."

  • Use Technology To Defeat Technology

    Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and The Third Metric movement to introduce greater wellbeing and balance into our lives, has always maintained that we need to use technology to free ourselves from it. Susie adds: "Use great apps like Concentrate for Mac or RescueTime (pictured)for PC - these are great ways to help you from getting distracted."

  • Turn Off Message Alerts From Social Networks

    Smartphones have made it easier to be connected than ever before. "Be aware of what a drain on time it is to surf social media for hours in a day," says Susie. "Each day, those hours really add up and make a huge difference to your output and time available for real living. Turn off message alerts from your social networks so you don't keep getting interrupted."

  • Do Lunch Without Your Phone

    Rich Pierson, co-founder of online meditation app Headspace, says: "I make sure that I have periods in the day when I don't have any technology on me. Going for a walk or to lunch without your phone can really help. "Having lunch on your own without your phone might be scary at first, but is actually a really nice thing to do."

  • Take Five Minutes To Breathe

    Five minutes isn't much, but the ripple effect it can have on your day last much more. Mark Williamson adds: "Take a breathing space - regularly stop and take five minutes to just breathe and be in the moment - notice how you're feeling and what's going on around you."

  • Exercise

    Susie Pearl says: "With the increase of screen time, we've seen a massive increase in related stresses to the body - eye strain, back troubles and neck issues. Get out there and get fresh air, daily exercise and movement - essential when we spend a lot of time at the computer."

  • Actually Hang Out With Your Friends. In Person.

    "The studies show that our joy and happiness comes from social interaction yet we do this less and less," says Susie. is it our perception of how busy we are? "Enjoy going out, meeting up, arranging socials and making sure that you put time and energy into making friendships, keeping friendships and being part of real communities. With the rise in social media, we are getting cut off from spending time with friends and this is accounting for a large part of the rise in stress."

  • Try Something New

    Push your conscious mind into action by doing something you haven't done before. It can be as small as "read a different magazine" Mark Williamson says, or "eat something you've never tried before, join a club or take a different route home." It'll certainly help squash any Facebook envy you might be feeling. Susie says: "It's more satisfying to have your own life experiences in the world than read about others having their experiences. Get off line and on life."

  • Make A Plan Of How Much You Plan To Use Social Media

    This one is Susie's suggestion. She adds: "Make sure you stick to it. And run your day so that you do other priority tasks before logging in to social networks."

  • Walking Meetings

    Sounds controversial but if you have catching up to do with a work friend, double it up with a walk or a run. Mark Williamson adds: "Get active outdoors – walk through the park, get off the bus a stop early or go for a "walking meeting" with a colleague."

  • Meditate, Surf, Do Anything Else But Touch That Mouse

    Rich adds: "Anything is better than being online, if you're stuck for something to do. I like surfing and <a href="http://www.getsomeheadspace.com" target="_blank">meditating</a>, hanging out with my friends in person or actually making a phone call is so much better than hanging out on Facebook. In my humble opinion."

Mark Williamson adds: "What are the things we love most about Facebook? Surely it's all about connecting with friends, finding out what others are up to and sharing our news, opinions and humour? The great news is all of these things are even more enjoyable if you do them face-to-face. So why not call an old friend for a chat, arrange to meet up or get outside and connect with your neighbours. Nothing is better for happiness than our social networks – and I mean that in the old sense!"

For a lot of us, the thought of going cold turkey is unpalatable. But we're not suggesting you deactivate your account, simply that you inject a bit more balance into your life. One very easy way of doing this is to have times of the day or 'zones' (eg your bedroom) where you don't allow technology.

For instance, Mark Williams says: "For me, I never sleep with my iPhone by my bed because I know it is too tempting to check mail - I find that making it necessary to walk even a few paces to a smartphone has been enough to break the habit."

It might feel strange, but the long term benefits are immense. Why not try spending a few minutes or even an hour without your phone? Tell us how you feel about it in the comments below...