Why Phone-Free Dinners Will Make You Happier

Do you normally check your phone at dinner? As it turns out, this habit can suck the joy out of family gatherings, suggests a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. What's more, previous research published in Frontiers in Psychiatry linked excessive smartphone use to mental health problems. Teens and young people who overuse their smartphones are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and memory problems than the general population.

The average American checks his phone every 10 minutes, or up to 96 times a day. But, ironically, nine out of 10 people feel offended when others use their phones during face-to-face interactions. Imagine being on a date with someone who can't take their eyes off the phone while speaking with you!

Even putting your phone on the table at dinner is bad manners, etiquette expert Daniel Post Senning told The Washington Post. "Staying present is very important, and it can pay real dividends in getting to know people and avoiding unintentional rudeness," he added. Leaving that aside, there's one more reason to have phone-free dinners, and it could be the key to a happier life. 

Smartphone usage counteracts the benefits of social interaction

Checking your phone during meals isn't just rude but also harmful to your mental well-being, according to the evidence presented in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Researchers asked 300 people to either put their phones away or place them nearby while dining out with their family and friends. Perhaps unsurprisingly, participants who had their smartphones at hand experienced less enjoyment than those having a phone-free dinner.

Other studies reported similar findings. For example, a recent review suggests that people who use their phones during face-to-face interactions feel disengaged and have a hard time connecting with others. This habit can affect both parties, undermining the benefits of social gatherings, notes the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Need one more reason to put your phone away at mealtime? In the long run, excessive smartphone use can take a toll on your mood, productivity, and mental focus. Plus, it may affect your relationships, causing unnecessary stress and arguments. And if that wasn't enough, you might end up eating more and putting on extra pounds, according to research published in Physiology and Behavior. As the scientists note, people who check their phones during a meal consume about 15% more calories than they normally do. 

Giving up your phone at mealtime doesn't have to be difficult

Nearly 1⁄3 of Americans use their phones at mealtime, reports the New York Post. In this digital era, putting your phone away at dinner may seem like mission impossible, but it's a habit you can develop over time. For starters, turn off your device or put it on silent during meals. Alternatively, enable Do Not Disturb mode.

If you're expecting an important call, set a custom alert for that contact (assuming you know who might call you). Leave the table and head to another room when you receive the call. Also, let the host know about it in advance, suggests etiquette expert Daniel Post Senning (via The Washington Post).

Better yet, ask your friends to join you on this challenge. For example, you could use the Downside app to gamify the whole thing. If anyone in your group touches his phone during a meal, the app will let you know who broke the rules. The loser will have to wash the dishes, pay the tip, or clean the table.

At the end of the day, giving up your phone during dinner is a matter of habit, so the more often you do it, the easier it gets. Technology cannot replace human interaction, and every minute that passes is gone forever. That said, challenge yourself to "break up" with your phone at mealtime and focus on the things that really matter, even if it's just for 30 minutes a day.