TV & Happiness

From the NYT:

Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers — but they don’t spend a lot of time watching television, a new study finds.

That’s what unhappy people do. […]

But the researchers could not tell whether unhappy people watch more television or whether being glued to the set is what makes people unhappy. “I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy,” Dr. Robinson said.


My personal thought is that this is much more correllation than causation.  I do not think TV itself is the cause of the unhappiness, likely just another symptom.  In other words, I think some people who watch a lot of TV can be very happy.

5 thoughts on “TV & Happiness

  1. Self-opinion polls are always tricky. I think this comes down to “no time=success=’happiness’=indirectly not watching TV”. If you spend 8 hours a day at work, are driving kids to-and-fro, grocery shopping, and all the yada yada that comes with raising a family – you don’t have time to watch TV, and you’re probs happy you have job and are not up to your ears in debt.

    On the other hand, someone who’s old and lonely may log 8 hours a day of TV watching. Home Shopping Network anyone?

    Speaking of old a lonely, I suggest listening to last week’s This American Life – it talked about what happens when someone dies without any next of kin or family, depressing, but really interesting. I think its a podcast – subscribe to it.

  2. I don’t really like TV. I’m not morally outraged or anything- I just don’t like what it does to my time and my brain; I feel lazy if I watch more than an hour.
    I have no problem believing that there is a correlation between TV and unhappiness. Most of those self-help books you’ve mentioned probably say something about happiness being proactive. What’s proactive about TV, other than choosing a channel?
    Your post actually sent me on my own rant:

  3. Hmmm. You are both making me think here, and I can still see it both ways.

    As Brandon so rightly points out (and expands on in his blog post), my go-to-source on all topics happiness is in the wildly popular self-help literature field. That genre makes it very clear that one of the universal keys to happiness is increasing activities that put one in the state of flow. This was most notably elaborated on in the book, ‘Flow.’ 🙂 TV never does such a thing.

    In that regard I do not think mass TV watching ever increases said happiness. However, like Al, it makes sense that the mass-TV watching is a product of some external factors that lead to unhappiness. I didn’t necessarily think of success/being busy as Al mentioned. Instead, if one’s relationships are a mess and one has little other hobbies or interests, than they likely delve into more TV. TV doesn’t cause it, but perhaps sustains it?

    Not sure.

    Though, nowadays I find it difficult to communicate with people who do not watch “The Office.”

  4. TV is escapism, if you don’t feel a need to escape, then the demand for it goes down. There are varying needs for why someone might want to escape reality, some of them are related to issues which affect happiness negatively.

    TV can be a social tool however though, such as the ‘water cooler’ effect of ‘the office’ or whatever may be popular. But the home shopping network doesn’t really endear this type of effect.

  5. Kyle, I agree…those are essentially my thoughts as well. High TV viewing is simply another symptom of larger unhappiness causing realities.

    And the water-cooler effect is exactly why I didn’t want to condemn it too harshly. Personally, Michael Scott is a cog in my life. 🙂

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