This conversation is closed.

If TV has been shown to be correlated with lower happiness, why do we watch TV?

We should stop watching TV as it tends to be correlated with lower satisfaction levels and leads to a life that is not in line with virtue or reason as Aristotle would say.

  • Jan 24 2012: I read somewhere that people watch TV because psychologically it makes them feel like they are having social engagement.

    Except a few public channels i consider most TV programs (except movies) junk esp. "reality" shows and news. A decade ago I spent a few hours a day, flipping channels to be mindlessly entertained. I realized that I go sleep late and spend hours of my life that I will never get back as I don't remember what I was watching.

    Nowadays I don't have TV subscription and I am very happy. I interact more with my friends and family and I consider time spent on the Internet much more valuable. I have much more time in my life to pursue hobbies and interests.
  • thumb
    Jan 27 2012: Colleen, I have heard may critisims of Television from media, doctors, educators, parents, etc ... In my opinion, I don't buy it. Televisions come with channel changing abilities, and a on - off switch. If one chooses to just turn it on for noise / company and mindlessly watches the next show then he is missing the value of television. National Geographic, NASA, religious events, news, and selected shows / documentaries would help us grow. As an example your local library is just a bunch of books or it can be a whole new world, travel, magic, make believe, research, accumulation of knowledge, a door to a better life ...... A structure can be a house or a home. A world of difference. If I could advise "make good decisions" would be a wish for everyone. All objects can be use for good or evil please choose the good. If you make a bad decision own up and make amends. Turn it off and read a book.
    • thumb
      Jan 27 2012: Hi Robert,
      Looks like we're on the same page...same book...same library with this issue:>)
    • Jan 29 2012: Robert, I agree that television offers some very interesting channels like PBS, National Geographic etc. There is some value.

      However, I think television will always have big drawbacks when compared to the Internet (as a library has). First, watching TV is purely consumption. You have no way to interact with it like you do on the Internet where you can comment or otherwise engage with the content and even people.

      On TV you get also exposed to a large amount of advertisement which both consumes your time and affects your future purchases. On the Internet usually you have little or no advertising.

      TV dictates what you learn about and when. The Internet has no such restriction. For example, I can watch about NASA all day long and I can choose from hundreds of NASA videos on YouTube.

      Finally the depth and breath of the TV content is usually low. The beauty of the Internet is how much you can learn and how you can actively search for answers and watch or read about what you are interested.

      Basically I see TV as passive, narrow way of consuming information given to you by a few corporations while the Internet has almost unlimited potential. It offers various viewpoints and information from individuals, communities and organizations. Of course as with TV one can waste time on the Internet too. In that sense both tools are same. However each tool has different degree of options. cheers
  • thumb
    Jan 25 2012: I live abroad and rarely watch television. When I return to the US for the holidays, I watch a lot of television. What I've noticed is that it does make me feel like I have had a social interaction - all negative. Between the reality TV shows, the 'People's Court' style programs, and the other related TV drama, I feel like I am interacting with a person who is a complete emotional mess.

    I have to back away from the television and tell myself that this is not reality and this is certainly not my reality.
    • Jan 25 2012: Thanks for sharing your experience. It fits into the larger narrative and I hope others wake up to the same in order to better shape their lives.
  • Jan 24 2012: Here is one article on this: http://lifehacker.com/5095892/happy-people-watch-less-tv-study-shows, but I can send you plenty more that find this in every values survey. For instance, see Richard Layard's book on Happiness or the Todaro and Smith textbook on Development Economics.

    Colleen - I completely agree that in the optimal case where people have choice over what to watch, when to watch, how long to watch, etc. what you and Tyne said is true. However, as numerous psychological surveys now show - it is easy to lose our rational choice and get tempted to watch more despite feeling unhappy overall after the experience. Professionally, I am a 'liberal' economist and would be the first person to defend individual liberty. However, TV viewing appears to me to be like "drug-abuse" in the sense that it is not allowing people to develop their own potential, use their own imagination and make free and rational choices in other dimensions. You may be very wise to turn off TV for so many months and I am sure you are happier because of that. I have 3 controversial suggestions for policy makers:

    1. Make people aware of this anomolous finding.
    2. Give them counselling on other uses of time apart from watching TV.
    3. Make content more "happiness" aligned. Perhaps, subsidize TED talks or nature programs or comedies but tax sensational news, horror shows...I know its paternalistic, but isn't happiness the aim of our existence?
    • thumb
      Jan 27 2012: Prakarsh,
      We do not "lose our rational choice"...we give it away. If we are "tempted to watch more despite feeling unhappy overall after the experience", we are not adequately evaluating what is important to us as individuals. As long as you continue to make excuses for the behavior, people will think/feel that there is no choice. I agree that TV viewing appears to be like drug-abuse. However, I do not agree that "it is not allowing people to develop their own potential, use their own imagination and make free and rational choices..."
      The tv does not have that power over us unless we give up our choice.

      Who turns the tv on? Who puts the drugs in people's systems? Is that a choice they make for themselves?
      Regarding your suggestions for policy makers:
      1. Have we not made people aware of the findings?
      2. Counceling is available to those who seek it
      3. There is plenty of interesting, informational programming on tv now. Who controls the channel control?

      One of the aims of my existence, is to remind myself and others that I have the ability to make choices in my life behaviors, and it does not help anyone to say that we "lose" our choice to the addictive behaviors around us. We give up our choices...that is a choice in itself...is it not?
  • thumb
    Jan 24 2012: What are the sources for your statement Prakarsh?
    • Jan 24 2012: Please see below my detailed response...
  • Comment deleted

  • thumb
    Jan 24 2012: I don't believe all television in general brings lower satisfaction. Watching a beautiful and inspiring movie or television series can leave a person feeling very good. I agree that if a person feels that their habits of watching television depresses them they should seek other forms of entertainment.
    • thumb
      Jan 24 2012: I agree Tyne,
      I find some great programming on public TV....educational documentaries, nature programs, etc., which I watch in the winter months. In the summer months, the TV is off for 5-6 months. It's a choice to turn it on and off, and it's a choice what channel and/or programming we watch. Well said Tyne..."if a person feels that their habits of watching television depresses them they should seek other forms of entertainment", and/or decide for him/herself when, and which programming to watch.
      • Jan 24 2012: Please see reply below where I give the link to the studies on happiness and debate whether individuals indeed have free choice...
        • thumb
          Jan 25 2012: I watched the talks you posted and am having a hard time finding anything relevant to the topic of television and happiness, or television and free choice, or happiness and free choice. The first speaker posted, Dan Gilbert, talked about synthesizing happiness around the choices we make. The second talk (Nancy Etcoff) was about the effect happiness has on our bodies and how money doesn't make us happy. The third speaker, Graham Hill, talked about editing living space. Could you please clarify for me the topic of this conversation?
  • Feb 10 2012: im sure there are plenty of exceptions for whom television is a great tool tobe used as a library but that sdoesnt mean theyre not correct when they say people who watch more tv are mor eunhappy...but its also not a very reliable statistics..people who watch a lot of tv may have also other factors contributing to their unhappiness such as they cant afford to go horse riding so they watch tv or they havent anything better to do in the evenings. i myself have always found television a pit of utter despair as its something i watched insessently when iw as depressed... so whether depression causes you to watch tv or tv causes you to be depressed may be a blurry line. certainly it does a lot of unhealthy things to you if you ar enot like the below writer who chooses wisely what he watches... if you sit there channel hopping whether you choose to or not you are subjugated to frightening images in news flashes and advertising mainly and all ads tell you your not good enough and need some product so thats going to be depressing and stressfull whether you think your relaxing or not. subconsciously watching images of stress makes your body prouce stress hormone swhich deplete you of nutrients and depress the body. so why do we do it... well why do we drink smoke eat mc donalds..and watch tv sometimes all at once? well we dont HAVE to do anything else to survive and like a lady doing tapestry in the old days because she had a corset so tight and a culture so repressed she couldnt get up and dance naked n the feilds as she may have wished.... so we resort to passive forms of leisure which do not involve conflict with the corset of our times... to break free from these implied constraints and create new things involves skills which many are not given room to learn. but it does happen and that some people dont watch tv or drink and get out there and create something is a wonder but those people obviously feel good enough to take on the challenge and feel even better for doing so
  • Jan 25 2012: Beautiful. Love your story.
  • thumb
    Jan 25 2012: Because the only thing worse than watching television, is living life, in this horrible culture. That is of course a downward spiral way of thinking... but it seems to be the popular one. It's certainly easier to Tune in and drop out, than it is to engage and change.
  • thumb
    Jan 24 2012: Because we are unhappy, its not that TV causes unhappiness, its that unhappiness/depression leads to time indoors and less interaction where TV is available.
    • Jan 25 2012: Its true, I am not making a causal statement - I just said they are correlated. But it might be a trap-like situation then ...leading to more unhappiness/loneliness --> more TV, etc... this is even more troubling than the original question.
      • thumb
        Jan 25 2012: I believe you have got it . Then the cycle of depression isolation and TV dependence grows and grows until selfworth and perception are easily swayed by the media I listen to NPR radio and I hear their ad that goes " Here at NPR we practice what has come to be know as fact based journalism" and I wonder what is being openly practiced elsewhere? I watch a news/opinion/entertainment show and it becomes clear why The Daily Show s Host Mr. Jon Stewart received an award for journalism excellence. I watch Fox news interview Karl Rove for impartial but informed information on the republicain primary, or the chances of republicans in general vs Obama. I am pleased to say that in my home we have no TV neither broadcast nor cable, i did subscribe to Netflix and so watch (and allow my son to watch) TV with out commercials and with my choice of acceptable content which would not be consistent with most , but thats the point of making the choice to be more directly involved. My son is a bright and happy creative and passionate dreamer who has announced his intention to be a scientist/movie maker when he gets older. He is six and already a budding paleontologist/Godzilla movie maker.

        I know when I have been depressed and sat and stared at the TV I have become more and more detached and less and less assertive until it it has been a virtual state of catatonia. However I think that the same is now very possible via a persons phone or computer and unless something is done to make it easier to find NPR/TED level of sites then more and more people will find the information superhighway had dead ended in nothing for them.
  • Comment deleted

    • Jan 24 2012: Please see below my detailed response...