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Watching Television and Level of Happiness

Posted Jan 14 2009 7:22pm

TelevisionThis article has been out for about a week now, but I figure I ought to comment on it, since I’ve pushed this meme on this blog on more than a few occasions. According to the research cited in this article, an analysis of 30 years worth of data from the General Social Survey is consistent with Robert Putnam’s conclusions in Bowling Alone: That is, happier people are more socially active, more religiously involved, more politically involved, and read the newspaper more frequently. In contrast, unhappier people spend a significantly higher amount of time watching television. It is noted in this article that there is a contrast between these findings, and recent research that showed people rating television-watching as a pleasurable activity in time diaries. From the article:

In contrast, unhappy people watched significantly more television in their spare time. These results also raise questions about recent and previous time-diary data, in which television rated quite highly when people were asked to rate how they felt when they engaged in various activities in "real time" in these daily diaries.

"These conflicting data suggest that TV may provide viewers with short-run pleasure, but at the expense of long-term malaise," said Professor Robinson. He also noted that earlier general satisfaction surveys also showed people rating TV below average as a significantly less satisfying free-time activity on the whole. "What viewers seem to be saying is that while TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, the shows I saw tonight were pretty good."

The ease and convenience of watching television is noted as a possible explanation for the generally high marks people will give to watching television in the moment. However, it is also pointed out that the short-term pleasure associated with watching T.V. is contrasted with a longer-term malaise.

Robert Putnam goes into even more detail in his book. He points out that more socially active/happier people not only differ in the amount of television they watch, when compared to less socially involved people, but also in the content of the programming that is watched, as well as how the television is watched. For example, from what I recall, individuals who are less socially involved will tend to leave the television on throughout the day, even when not actively watching it.

My general take on television, when I’ve applied it to treatment, is that it’s like most everything else: moderation is fine, but too much is no good. I’ve found that many of my depressed clients have watched way too much television, which lends extremely informal support to the arguments made by this article, and by Putnam. In addition, I’ve seen television creeping into areas of peoples’ lives where it is unhealthy, and interferes with social activity, even on a spousal or familial level. The main example of this, of course, is the family that has the television on during dinner.

This article would seem to be one more piece of evidence suggesting that reducing one’s television watching, and increasing one’s social activity, makes for a healthier, happier you. Then again, if you’ve been reading this blog, you already knewthat’s where I stand.

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