Do Smartphones Kill Happiness?

Elisha Goldstein on the mindfulness of comedian Louis C.K.'s recent discussion on phones and distraction. 

There have been a lot of headlines lately about the 6-minute clip of comedian Louis C.K. telling Conan O’Brien why he doesn’t give his kids smartphones. He thinks they’re toxic, “especially for kids.” He says kids can say “you’re fat” to another kid via text and then don’t see their reaction, they don’t get to build empathy. While this is a worthwhile point for every parent to consider at this time in our culture, his next point was even more impactful and it gets to the heart of what holds us back from experiencing more joy and happiness.

Here’s the clip:

The debate about whether to give kids smartphones or not and what impact that has on them will be a debate for quite a while. But when Louis C.K. talked about noticing that pit of sadness and aloneness inside and the knee-jerk reaction to “get the phone and write ‘hi’ to like 50 people” he touched upon a universal experience—the innate fear of being alone.

It makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective; the people that survived were those that had a clan or a tribe so they could defend themselves in times of attack. Feeling alone is uncomfortable to the brain.

But Louis, can I call him Louis? He did something different, something mindful.

He said that when he started to get that sad feeling he noticed an inclination to reach for the phone and then said:

“You know what? Don’t, just be sad. Just let the sadness hit you like a truck. I let it come and then I pulled over and cried so much and it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments. And when I let myself feel sad I felt happy moments come in, because your body has like antibodies that bring like happiness to meet the sadness. I was grateful to be sad and I met it with profound happiness. I was grateful.”


There are so many ways our brain makes the decision to check out from the uncomfortable feelings we have; perhaps the most feared is our aloneness. But the problem is as we avoid what’s uncomfortable we also close off the possibility of truly being comfortable. We enter into a state of just surviving.

But what happens when we practice “allowing” the sadness, the aloneness to be there just as it is? What happens when we start accepting the reality of it as something we fear and at the same time knowing it’s just a feeling, just a sensation?

What might come up is a natural feeling of personal control, self-compassion and even happiness. This is maybe what Louis C.K. experienced as his “happiness antibodies.” They arise when we become mindful of our emotions, the difficult and the more joyous.

Today, be on the lookout for that alone feeling, notice any urge to check out from it and then see what happens when you pay attention to it with a kind awareness, just letting it be. You might just trigger some emotional antibodies that trigger happiness.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Adapted from Mindfulness and Pyschotherapy.