I recently read a study from the University of Maryland that showed those who watched the least amount of television reported being happier than everyone else.
While I love watching my favorites like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos, this is something I have sensed for a while now.
The report goes on to say that watching TV may have positive effects in the moment but not over the long run.
That has been my experience. The shows above are great low cost entertainment and I enjoy them, but if I veg out for too long I feel bummed out at the end of the day.
TV: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
The Good. TV is easy entertainment and offers immediate gratification. You don’t have to drive anywhere, make plans, find company, or bathe.
The Bad. There is an abundance of research (1, 2, 3) that finds activities like socializing and reading to be most effective in improving your quality of life. The time you spend watching TV could be spent doing activities that will bring you authentic long-term happiness.
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx
Shortened Lifespan. For every hour spent watching TV, our life expectancy decreases by 22 minutes.
No time? We often struggle to find time for important things in life like cooking, exercise, and pursuing our dreams. However, the average American finds time to watch 5 hours of television a day, or 33 hours a week. (Neilson)
Commercials. Unless you’re watching DVDs or Netflix, you will be exposed to commercials.
Advertisers are cunning. The professionals use slick manipulative tactics to saturate your brain with whatever message benefits them.
Now I know, you are too smart to fall for their tricks! Unfortunately they target the unconscious areas of your brain, the place where you don’t hear your thoughts.
Even I have found myself in the Taco Bell drive thru line after a three year fast food sobriety.
Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh’s Thoughts On Television
Thich Nhat Hanh is a teacher, author, poet, peace activist, and ultimately someone that I have a lot of respect for. In his book Peace is Every Step, I came across the following passage on television.
“Some of us leave our windows open all the time, allowing the sights and sounds of the world to invade us, penetrate us, and expose our sad, troubled selves.
Do you ever find yourself watching an awful TV program, unable to turn it off? The raucous noises, explosions of gunfire, are upsetting. Yet you don’t get up and turn it off. Why do you torture yourself in this way? Don’t you want to close your windows? Are you frightened of solitude-the emptiness and the loneliness you may find when you face yourself alone?
Watching a bad TV program, we become the TV program. We are what we feel and perceive. If we are angry, we are the anger. If we are in love, we are love. If we look at a snow covered mountain peak, we are the mountain.
We can be anything we want, so why do we open our windows to bad TV programs made by sensationalist producers in search of easy money, programs that make our hearts pound, our fists tighten, and leave us exhausted? Who allows such TV programs to be made and seen by even the very young?
We do! We are too undemanding, too ready to watch whatever is on the screen, too lonely, lazy or bored to create our own lives.
We turn on the TV and leave it on, allowing someone else to guide us, shape us, and destroy us. Losing ourselves in this way is leaving our fate in the hands of others who may not be acting responsibly. We must be aware of which programs do harm to our nervous systems, minds, and hearts, and which programs benefit us.”
Some TV Rules to Get the Good without the Bad and Ugly
Taking everything into consideration, I believe television can have a positive effect on your life if used responsibly. Here are some guidelines my wife and I use:
2 Hours A Day. This is actually the recommendation the American Academy of Pediatrics gives for children. It makes sense for adults in my opinion, but it’s not their place to give advice to adults!
Like all good things in life, moderation is the key and without a limit it’s easy to get sucked in for hours.
“God made a whole beautiful earth and decided to put you in it, to experience all of this beauty. You can’t do that watching television all the time.” – Donald Miller
No Cable. Not only does this prevent us from the brainwashing of commercials, it also saves us a few bucks. We have Netflix and will purchase any series or movies that interest us.
Purposeful Viewing. I know what I’m going to watch before I plop down. This keeps me from getting lost down the rabbit hole. While I do love fiction, I try to mix in some documentaries and educational films as well.
Temptation Bundling. This is a term Dr. Milkman coined which means combining an instantly gratifying ‘want’ activity with engagement in a ‘should behavior’ that provides long-term benefits but requires willpower.
When possible I combine TV watching with exercise. It’s easy to do some jumping jacks, curl-ups, push-ups, squats, and lunges while enjoying the show. Ideally I’d like to put a treadmill in the living room!
If you’re watching cable you could make a point to exercise during the commercials.
So where do you stand?
So where does the TV habit currently stand in your life? Is it serving you, and used as a beneficial tool of entertainment?
Or has it become an addiction that is harmful to your life experience and progress toward reaching your full potential?