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Avoid social media and you'll be more productive, Anna Petherick advises for The Guardian. 

In September, the first positivity officers of the United Arab Emirates's Ministry for Happiness will begin their training in happiness science, a program designed for them by the University of California, Berkeley, and Oxford University. The UAE established its Happiness Ministry in February. In July, the government of Madhya Pradesh state in India followed suit.

Typically, when governments set out to improve their citizens' subjective wellbeing, they present the idea as a worthy end in itself. That's not to be sniffed at. But there is another side to this pursuit. Plenty of evidence shows that happy people are not only healthier in the long run (and therefore less costly to the state), but also better worker bees.

A simple experiment demonstrates this. When volunteers are asked to perform easy mathematical tasks many times over in return for modest per-task payment, they do about 10% more work if they have just watched a few minutes of a comedy show. If they watch a boring video instead, or simply don't find the show uplifting, the effect isn't there.

Outside of the lab, software programmers are better at solving analytical problems when they are happier. Putting lots of workers together, employees' job satisfaction levels today can even predict a firm's value on Wall Street a year down the road.

Beyond these narrow measures of productivity, there's a suite of broader societal benefits - public goods - that flow from keeping citizens smiling. In Germany, for example, the 7% of the population that gives blood doesn't fit into any easy demographic generalization. It isn't disproportionately male or female, employed or not - or more or less educated. However, Germans who report feeling generally happy in the previous month are more likely to donate blood than those who don't.

As enlightened governments figure all of this out and seek to encourage happiness and its spin-off effects, there is at least one obvious bump in the road: a countervailing trend that is not making mass-happiness creation so easy. The drive to raise citizens' wellbeing is taking place as people are shifting their communications from in-person meetings to ever more online exchange.

Probably the biggest study of its kind, intended to evaluate the effects of social media use on everyone in Italy, makes for gloomy reading. It clearly links spending time on social networking sites with lower levels of individual happiness, and more specifically, with a lower level of general trust in society.

Long before the Guardian launched its campaign against cyberbullying, even before Monika Lewinsky received a pummeling in the late 1990s, there was good reason to suspect that online communities would foster bad vibes. Fifty years of research has underscored the conclusion that swapping written messages is a very ineffective way to generate cooperation in conflict situations. Face-to-face communication is inordinately better.

This implies, of course, that the online world may already be playing nicer than it did a few years ago, as social media platforms have made it easier for people to share video and audio material. Companies such as Facebook have cottoned on to the idea that they need to develop a whole host of soft skills to foster online harmony.

What is often ignored in discussions of social media malaise is that individuals, armed with the latest happiness research, can also develop soft skills of their own, to protect themselves from the subtly negative influences of online interaction. To that end, here are some guidelines to keep your subjective wellbeing relatively buoyant.

First, don't worry about how many online friends you have. Whatever your personality type, age or income, a study of 5,000 people (and their friends) in Canada reveals that doubling your number of real-world friends has a huge impact on your happiness. Doubling your friends on social media has almost none.

Second, avoid passively scrolling through your Facebook feed. Doing so has been shown in experiments to make people feel low and envious as they consume the rose-tinted edits of they friends' lives. Actively messaging and commenting on Facebook is far less likely to give you the blues.

Third, if you insist on scrolling through your Facebook feed, train yourself to pay selective attention to updates from friends with whom you are close in the offline world. Their posts are probably as biased as anyone else's, but reading them fosters a good kind of envy of the positive, self-motivating variety. By comparison, ingesting a glut of effortless romance and exotic adventure sports from distant acquaintances is likely to conjure up a desire to pull others down.

Finally, if you feel low, indulge in internet cats, the YouTube content category with more views-per-video than any other. Research out of Indiana University finds that the more people watch internet cats, the more they enjoy the experience. (And if you get really into it, you can always go to the internet cat film festival.)

Based on their happiness measurements, the authors of that study go so far as to suggest a role for Grumpy Cat and the permanently kitten-sized Lil Bub in pet therapy, potentially in place of the real thing.