Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy People Don't Watch As Much Television As Unhappy People

Is television the new opiate of the masses? An interesting study from the University of Maryland suggests that happy people don't watch nearly as much television as unhappy people:

...Examining the activity patterns of happy and less happy people in the General Social Survey (GSS) between 1975 and 2006, the authors found that happy people were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read more newspapers.
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. ...
Well, that's a big part of where true happiness lies, isn't it; thinking and acting with an eye for the long-term, not for merely the short-term.

This next point reminded me of a comment made once upon a time by science fiction author Ray Bradbury in a retrospective interview I can vaguely recall from the dusty corners of my failing memory. A jovial Bradbury described himself not as an optimist, but as "an optimal behaviorist". He would work, he would do things, and at the end of a day he could look back and see many things accomplished, day after day. This made him feel good about himself, which in turn led to more productivity, and then more pride of accomplishment. Someone who never did anything, Bradbury said, would find it harder to feel as good about himself. That cycle of strength, built from actions, is interesting when contrasted against the cycle of passivity undertaken by the unhappy television viewers cited in the report:

The authors also noted the many other attractions associated with TV viewing in relation to other free-time activities. Viewers don't have to go anywhere, dress up (or at all), find company, plan ahead, expend energy, do any work-or even pay anything - in order to view. This becomes an unbeatable combination when added to its being quite enjoyable in the short run. This probably accounts for TV taking up more than half of Americans' free time.
This link of happiness to being purposefully engaged in meaningful actions gets further confirmation with the news that, for the unhappy individual, extra time was harming them more than a lack of time:
Unhappy people were also more likely to have unwanted extra time on their hands (51 percent) compared to very happy people (19 percent) and to feel rushed for time (35 percent vs. 23 percent). Of the two, having extra time on their hands was the bigger burden.
The whole story also brings to mind the wisdom of mothers (like mine) who used to tell their kids to shut off the television, go outside, and play. Thanks Mom..!

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