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How Your Smartphone Camera Can Improve Your Happiness

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It’s easy to rag on selfies. First we heard they killed more people than sharks in 2015. Then we found out they’re less attractive than we think. Maybe we should just stick to Instagramming food.

Not so fast. It turns out taking pictures of yourself does have at least one positive effect on your life. A recent study examined the psychological impact of smartphone photography, and found that participants who took daily selfies while smiling felt more confident, comfortable, and creative.

Researchers asked 41 students at a “public university on the West Coast” to incorporate one of three habits into their daily routines:

  • Taking a selfie while smiling every day
  • Taking a daily photo of something that makes them happy
  • Taking a photo of something that would make someone else happy, then sending it via text, email, or social media to that person

The study used custom-built Android apps to track the students’ moods for a week before engaging in the daily photo program, and then for three weeks while practicing one of the three habits. At the experiment’s conclusion, people in the selfie group experienced positive mood changes due to feeling more confident, comfortable, or creative in their smiles.

“As days went on, I got more comfortable taking photos of myself. If you feel good about yourself, then [a] selfie would be a way to capture that,” said one participant. Another said he noticed less stress in his face over time. Two participants reported that even fake smiles lifted their mood.

Those who fell into the second category reported feeling more mindful, reflective, and appreciative by taking photos of things that made them happy. A theme emerged: participants started to realize happiness could come from things in their lives that they usually take for granted.

“They just open my eyes and made me realize what makes me happy. Those are simple things that I never thought about before,” said participant P31.

“Instead of going routinely and mechanically during the day, I stop and look around for something that makes me smile. I didn’t consciously do that before. I find that happiness is close to me,” added P28.

Participants in the third group felt happy when the photo recipients responded to their messages. That increased sense of connection, in turn, reduced their stress. Two kinds of photos in particular seemed to promote especially strong feelings.

Photos that were taken and sent in the present moment helped participants communicate their current situation (e.g., how they were feeling, what they were working on, and what environment they were in), which created a stronger emotional tie between sender and recipient.

Participants also took photos of things that embedded shared memories. P43 favoured photos he knew would make his girlfriend happy. “There was something we joked about before. It was the personal connection that gave the meaning. I was not taking pictures [that would be] super meaningful for others,” he said.

Hint hint: that goes for mums, too. “I usually sent [them] to my mom,” said P30. “Sometimes she laughed at the pictures: ‘thanks for thinking of me today’… It let her know something reminded me of her and that I was missing her.”

So what does this mean for you? The results suggest that you can boost your mood by applying positive psychology to smartphone photography. Any photo-taking with the intent to increase your own happiness can actually do it, specifically pictures intended to promote happiness via smiling self-expression (selfies), those taken of things that make yourself happy, or those intended to make others happy.

So next time someone bashes your gym selfies, tell them you’re not just trying to impress dates on Tinder – you’re enhancing your emotional well-being.

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