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It’s not just you.
Countless Americans are roaming the streets, oblivious to their surroundings. They’re texting, liking, playing, checking, sending, shopping, posting, stalking, and streaming while they walk to their cars, wait for the bus, or sip their second coffee of the day.
In the past few years, we’ve become a nation with our heads down, eyes locked on our screens. According to a Nielsen report released in early 2019, adults in the U.S. spend almost 11 hours a day on electronic devices. Some studies have shown that we touch our phones thousands of times a day.
We know that while our phones offer many benefits, they’re also taking a toll on our well-being. Research has revealed that when people are focused on their screens, they smile less and worry more. Heavy smartphone use can also make us less productive.
We often turn to our phones out of boredom or F.O.M.O. — but the truth is, what we’re missing isn’t inside a device. Here are just a few reasons to lift your head and put away your phone.
Noticing your surroundings makes you happier
You don’t have to plan a national park vacation to connect with the natural world — or to benefit from it. A study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that simply noticing nature in your everyday surroundings increases your happiness, sense of well-being, and feeling of connectedness. You can get a quick hit of nature even in the grittiest city: Take time to notice the leaves on a tree, flowers on a windowsill, or a squirrel hiding a nut in a patch of dirt.
You could meet someone special
Sure, there’s a chance you’ll blindly smack into someone extraordinary while you’re both focused on updating your LinkedIn profiles and walking at the same time. But those are about the same odds that Beyoncé will start following you on Instagram. Instead, amp up your chances for a game-changing encounter by looking up and out at the people around you. Practice your eye contact. Maybe even start a conversation. After all, Canadian researchers have shown that even fleeting interactions with strangers can make you happier.
You could find hidden treasures
Some trash is exactly that. But in a world stuffed with stuff, plenty of what gets left on the curb is useful, or even valuable. You might find a vintage chair, a bike that needs simple tweaking, or even a stolen work of art. That’s what happened to New Yorker Elizabeth Gibson: The vibrant painting she spotted and picked up on the street turned out to be a long-lost masterpiece by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo. It later sold at auction for over $1 million.
You’ll get to where you’re going faster
Texting while walking may feel like a time-saver — but it’s probably slowing you down. A study from the University of Bath and Texas A&M showed that people walk differently when they’re typing on their phones: Their steps are shorter and slower, meaning it takes longer to get to their destinations.
You can see art
That mural you pass every day might be a by a famous artist, and that striking building on the corner could have been designed by a notable architect. Even if they’re not, opening your eyes to the art and architecture around you can spark wonder, creativity, and curiosity, as well as hone your observational skills. Pro tip: Pop on some headphones and you can use your smartphone to get information about local buildings and installations, without ever looking down at a screen. (Noise-canceling headphones, like Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, are great for eliminating distractions.) Think: “Hey Siri, tell me about the history of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral!”
You can think deep thoughts
Henry David Thoreau took long walks. So did Virginia Woolfe, Steve Jobs, and many other brilliant people. Walking helps us think — and research at Stanford University has shown that it specifically helps us think creatively. Whether it’s the increased blood flow, the steady rhythm, or something else entirely, the lesson is clear: Putting down your phone and taking a stroll can give you a leg up.
Admittedly, completely transforming your behavior from always looking down to always looking up is a big ask. Instead, make the transition more manageable — and likely to stick — by incorporating small behavioral changes, or Microsteps. First, try resetting your lock screen on your phone. Catherine Price, author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, recommends putting a reminder on your lock screen instead of that adorable photo of your pet or family members. Write “What do you want to pay attention to?” on a piece of paper, take a photo of it, and put it front and center on your screen. (Also effective: “Put down the phone and step away.”)
You can also benefit from taking just 30 seconds each morning to schedule a daily activity that brings you joy — and doesn’t exist in the world of your phone. Remind yourself what it’s like to do something for real pleasure, not just the dopamine hit that comes from checking sports Twitter or getting a hundred likes on a post. Spend a few minutes each day trying your hand at latte art, singing in the shower, reading a book, or walking around the block. That way, you’ll start each day truly looking up.
The experts cited in this story were not paid for their participation, nor does their participation imply an endorsement of the products and/or services mentioned above.