True Confessions: I like watching TV. Do You?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’m pretty sure that, as a professional lifecoach, certified personal trainer, trained psychologist and semi-professional philosopher, I’m not supposed to admit this in public. But the fact is that I actually like watching TV. And not the highbrow stuff. I like a lot of regular, run of the mill network shows, like House, Grey’s Anatomy, Fringe, Law & Order: CI, and Eleventh Hour. I can’t wait for the season premiere of 24.

I frequently spend two hours or more watching TV. I don't go hunting for something to watch and don't watch game shows, “reality” shows, or re-runs. But I do try to catch my favorites each week, and there's usually one or two on most nights of the week. I usually do some of my strength training while watching and make up for any cardio exercise I might have missed that day. And this time slot also frequently doubles as my time for keeping up with the latest news and research in my fields.

Just last night, for example, I was happily multitasking by watching House and simultaneously reading this review of some recent research showing that unhappy people watch more TV than happy people.

Which, of course, made me wonder whether I’m not as happy as I think I am, or whether my two hours is enough to gradually push me into the unhappy group. Or whether this research should just be filed away under “psychobabble.”

I didn’t do a lot of serious thinking about all I hope you're not looking for any great insight here. This was my “mental break” time, after all, and I got more involved in the TV shows than in this article. But a couple of questions and thoughts did come to mind:

Is there a cause-effect relationship between TV watching and personal happiness, or is there something else that actually causes this connection?

There are tons of studies showing a strong correlation between more time spent watching TV and higher levels of personal unhappiness or dissatisfaction. But, at least according to the article, this research goes beyond that and actually shows that higher degrees of unhappiness cause more TV watching, and vice-versa.

According to the study, “not happy” people log over 30% more daily TV watching time than “very happy” people. Data gathered from 45,000 study participants over a 34-year period also show that activities like socializing, sex, and reading were associated with greater happiness, while time spent watching TV was the only factor directly connected to lower levels of happiness.

Well, duh.

Would you be surprised to find out that a good conversation with your spouse or your friends, or a really good time with one special person, makes you feel happier than watching TV? I think not. This is not exactly prime time news material.

But then the study goes on to talk about how this connection between TV and unhappiness apparently works:

  • "Television viewing is a pleasurable enough activity with no lasting benefit, and it pushes aside time spent in other activities -- ones that might be less immediately pleasurable, but that would provide long-term benefits in one's condition. In other words, TV does cause people to be less happy."

  • "TV is not judgmental nor difficult, so people with few social skills or resources for other activities can engage in it," says the study. "Furthermore, chronic unhappiness can be socially and personally debilitating and can interfere with work and most social and personal activities, but even the unhappiest people can click a remote and be passively entertained by a TV. In other words, the causal order is reversed for people who watch television; unhappiness leads to television viewing."

    So, according to this study, watching TV is a double whammy. It causes you to be unhappy because it keeps you from doing the things that actually increase happiness, and the unhappier you are, the more you’re likely to watch, which will make you even more unhappy.

    I haven’t actually seen the original research this article is based on, so I can’t tell whether the data or the research method actually support these reported conclusions. My guess would be they don’t. From the general description of the study, it doesn’t sound like the sort of study that could actually demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between TV watching and happiness.

    On the other hand, most of us probably want to believe this study is accurate. I know I’d like to believe that there really are many better things to do than watch TV when it comes to finding happiness and satisfaction. I do believe that.

    I just have a hard time buying the other side of that coin—that watching TV is going to cause me to be unhappy. It could, I suppose, if I was neglecting higher-priority activities or shirking my responsibilities to others to get the time to sit in front of the TV. Or if I was an “emotional watcher” or literally addicted to TV, and using it like a drug to get some immediate pleasure while slowly working my way into long-term misery and trouble.

    Or even if I was willfully refusing some deep calling to fulfill some as yet unrealized higher potential in myself, and settling for watching other people do that on TV.

    But are those the only options available here, as this study seems to suggest? Is it really so bad to take a little time off from both the demands of work/daily life, and the demands of constant self-improvement, to space out with a little light-weight diversion? Is watching TV inherently bad for your brain or your soul? Does liking TV shows mean you've got some kind of psychopathology--or hopelessly bad taste--going on?

    I don’t think so. But I could be biased. I don’t want to give up my favorite shows, lol. And I also like Christmas carols, which is kind of weird. So, maybe I should think twice about all this.

    What do you think? Do you have favorite shows you try to watch regularly, or do you keep your TV off as much as possible on general principle?

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    I admit I am not a TV watcher, which puts me in a totally different social category. Everyone talks about TV programs and movies, and the actor and actresses that populate them, I don't usually have a clue what they are talking about. This happens at work, on facebook, at parties, and just about everywhere. I stand there clueless about the topic of conversation and start drifting on other thoughts. There are all kinds of reasons I don't watch TV. First and foremost I hate sitting still for that long, If I am visiting somewhere and the TV is on it drives me crazy to just sit there doing nothing, seems like half of all programs are commercials and who wants to listen to them. If I have to sit I want something else to do like sewing, knitting or spinning. The second reason is mentioned above, and it is the commercials, they drive me crazy, they are mostly stupid, talking down to people or demeaning groups of people, or just plain miss-representing the product, and they draw your attention away from the program, after 8-12 commercials I forget what I was watching anyway, kind of like reading 5 or 6 books at a time. Third I am not into violence, I don't want to watch blood and guts, courtroom antics, or hospital drama. I don't want to watch mean or nasty, horror, or physiological terror. This is supposed to be entertainment not blood curdling terror. Fourth, I don't like the noise, I like my house quiet, no background noise at all, no radio, no TV blaring, no stereo playing, just quiet, maybe a fan when I sleep during the day to drown out the outside noise of trucks, cars and jake brakes. Fifth, I don't want to watch the drama of those reality shows that are not the least bit based on any reality in real life. So no TV in my life now, and there was very little TV in our lives when we were kids, we went outside and played. Report
    I watch my tv shows i also watch all the discovery and history i like learning about things and telling other people what i learned but i don't think it should consume your life either. it should be okay if you miss a show and not a total meltdown cause you missed an episode or forgot to dvr it. Report
    I'm with you Julien-- When I lived on my own (4 years) I didn't bother to get any cable. I couldn't justify paying for it because I never really found much interest in it. When my fiance and I moved in together hi insisted on getting cable. Now I do have a few favorite shows set to record on our DVR but I only watch a couple hours of tv the most every night. If we got rid of our cable tomorrow-- I wouldn't miss it. It is way too expensive. $50? Heck that would be a steal! I think our bill is about $90 a month. I would much rather save that money. I would probably spend those couple of hours outside or reading. I don't think I am unhappy with cable or without it. I don't think t.v. affects your happiness unless you are spending a big chunk of your day sitting on the couch being inactive and unsocial. Report
    I have my favorite shows too. Everything in moderation.

    I don't see why condom commercials are a bad's promoting safe sex... Report
    I hate TV. The commercials seem geared toward idiots.(As do many of the shows) It should be against the law to show commercials for prescriptions. And when I see condom commercials my stomach turns. Is nothing private anymore? Nevermind. I already know the answer. Report
    I love my ME Time of watching my favorite shows (all CSIs, Criminal Minds, The Mentalist) and cross-stitching.
    An exhausting stressful day requires such shows as The Big Bang Theory and Two & Half Men......laughter is needed!
    This is my down time at the end of day and I tend to get cranky if I don't get my ME Time! Report
    I love tv and refuse to apologize for that. I only watch in the evenings and thanks to phentermine, no longer snack in front of the tv. My 8 year old daughter watches a lot of tv, history channel, discovery, science and the like. She has an AMAZING vocabulary which I attribute to tv and loves to read books about the topics she sees on tv. Just like anything else, if it takes over your life, its probably not good for you Report
    I can totally believe it. I recently moved to a new city to start medical school and my TV watching (via the internet) went up a whole lot. For starters, I lost a lot of my social circle with the move and there are limited options when it comes to having 'alone' fun time. It's the way I de-stress. It's the way I entrain myself when I have some off time. It's my way out when I don't want to deal with life. I understand it's not healthy and I'm working on changing it but yeah, more TV watching = more unhappiness. Report
    Definitely i have favorite shows i try to watch regularly. watching tv makes me happy and i love learning new things about different topics. i particularly like NatGeo Wild, indian channels and talk shows and series channels. most nights my husband and i watch tv together, happily i might add; for at least an hour. we laugh, marvel and generally talk about what we watch.
    i think the study is not very accurate. Report
    I am disabled, and the computer and TV are my connection with the world. I miss my "friends" on Food Network, House, Harry's Law, and Pit Boss if I forget to watch. Mike and Molly are good buddies too, although I dislike the fat jokes that are freely said. Personally, I think TV is better than those zombie killing games my (adult) boys play. Report
    I like watching TV! If you are a multi-tasker, you will most likely being doing mroe than just sitting and watching TV..........that's what i do, and it doesn't make me sadder than not watching! In fact, it's nice to be able to "get into" the program and leave the present surroundings (at least for a while) No, not guilty for liking to watch TV! Report
    I love TV! I grew up with it on most of the day and night, and have fond memories of the family watching TV together. Each year, there are probably an average I enjoy watching reruns on a few of the newer retro TV and classic TV stations.

    Oh, did I mention I don't have cable? Why spend the money? Anything worth watching eventually comes to DVD or Netflix nowadays.

    Each year, there are probably at least six shows I look forward to each week, not including the staples like SNL, Craig Ferguson, and The Simpsons. I like comedy, sci-fi, fantasy, and a few dramas and talent-based reality shows, namely Apprentice, AGT, and ANTM.

    I often work out with a mat and dumbbells while watching late night TV or morning classic reruns. I am also usually on my laptop while watching TV - networking, playing games, chatting, writing, etc. Report
    I don't watch regular shows anymore because of work. I do however spend a lot of time watching shows and movies on the internet, i.e. Netflix. I don't consider myself an unhappy person, more likely just bored. I do sometime do other activities while watching tv. As long as I get everything I need done, then I don't see a problem. Report
    I like TV more than I should. It is a great way to unwind, especially if you are a person that cannot shut off your brain like I am. I use it mostly to just stop thinking for awhile, which helps me relax and resets my brain. I know I have a habit of watching too much, mostly on the weekends, and that is where I get lethargic and depressed. I think most people get depressed by TV because they get caught up in the stories and don't realize that THAT is not how real life works. It is just finding a good balance and moderation, just like everything else on the journey of being healthy. Report
    I like watching TV too. I find that I have sat in front of it for too long when there are lots of other things that I could and should be doing. I got hooked on Pretty Little Liars when it started last summer on ABC Family. I too love Law & Order but not as much since they moved it to LA. I also like Law & Order SVU. I have set a goal for this week to not watch more than 1 hour of TV per day...I NEED WILL POWER FOR THIS ONE!!! Report
    I watch TV once in a blue moon. However when hubby is at home the TV is on, if he watches it or not. I keep turning it off when it plays to an empty couch. I don't "hate" TV; the shows simply don't interest me. I get my news from the radio on my way to work.

    It's funny (and a bit disturbing) how many people talk about TV shows as if the characters were their friends and neighbours. Sometimes in the lunch room I don't know if they're discussing real life or last night's "Friends" episode. Report
    We enjoy watching tv. We are probably one of a few households that only have one. We usually watch together;me hubby and kids and we often talk about what we are watching. Our oldest has been out on his own for years and the twins are now sophomores in college and only home for holidays and to get hugs, but we still watch our favorite shows together. Bill and I never miss several of our favorites. I usually do some aerobic or weight training for about 10-18 minutes during the hours we watch. Report
    I saw that article too and it surprised me to some extent. I have always watched TV and I consider myself a pretty happy person. I also am married, have 3 children, have a masters degree, run marathons, host parties, read, etc. etc. I think there needs to be further study on the topic. Watching TV=Not Happy? Doubtful. Report

    It is good company for those who live alone. I do not care for much of the programming that is provided these days. I am a documentary junkie. This reality stuff is a waste. Report
    i love tv..i dislike commercials...just wish i could make myself watch less of it Report
    I can't stand all the hating on TV. This may be because I'm an actor (not on TV) but I like watching TV. Part of my job requires actually staying up to date on the things going on in television (and film, and theater). There are some really great TV shows. I have my favorite shows. Often, I watch them with my friends as a cheap social event. TV makes cleaning my house more enjoyable because I have a fun distraction. And anyway, if millions of people didn't like watching TV there wouldn't be hundreds of channels, The Emmys wouldn't exist, and people like charlie Sheen wouldn't be making over $1 million per episode!!!! Report
    I am not going to say that I hate tv, but I sure wouldn't miss it if it were not in my house. I could really care less about it. I do find some shows entertaining, but don't really care if I miss them or not! I think the same things could be said about computers and video games as well. Report
    Since joining SparkPeople I don't spend a great deal of time watching TV. When I do watch I am very selective. I like dancing, skating and swimming. Report
    I don't watch much television. I don't actually have one so would have to be visiting someone. Report
    I am not so sure that the act of watching television is in and of itself harmful to happiness. I think it probably has more to do with what you choose to watch. Or maybe it does have to do with the time spent watching it. I mean if you are constantly shown images of "ideal families" or "beautiful people" and you have neither of those things, perhaps it can create some unhappy thoughts. Personally I like watching the inane "reality shows" because it makes me feel smarter compared to the idiots that get cast on those shows! lol

    I don't know maybe some become unhappy when they realize that the television is the high point of their day. I think there are too many confounding variables to directly link happiness with television. But that's just my two cents..... Report
    I like TV but hate all the commercials. As a time-saver, I have a DVR and record all my programs to watch later. It saves me as much as 20 minutes for every 1 hr program. Report
    It is the commercials that make me unhappy. Every other commercial tells you that it is not O.K. to have gray hairs, it is not O.K. to have wrinkles (the girl on this commercial is usually 30 something), it is not O.K. to be overweight. I don't watch T.V. anymore - give me a movie or old T.V. show on DVD anyday. We save a lot of money by not paying for cable. I watch the Biggest Loser online, a week later, for free. Report
    I don't watch much TV, Just Biggest loser and House :). On the weekends I listen to music while doing any house work and the hubby and I watch movies. I think that tv is a lot less of an unhappy addiction than the video games that I know of people who spend hours and hours doing. Report
    love t v ! watch all health networks. love docyor oz Report
    Now that we have a DVR I find that I am watching more TV. I just broke down and got a second DVR for the basement and put in on the TV in front of the TV. I am going to start walking on the treadmill while watching shows I recorded. This will help two different ways. Sometimes I feel like walking on the treadmill but nothing is on TV so I am bored and don't stay on as long and I am hoping this will also just plain motivate me to go down and walk even when I am not feeling it. Report
    We have a TV but no reception. I have not watched TV at home for more than 10 years. If I am at a hotel or my parents or sons places I may watch what ever is on but I don't need to watch it. I spend my time sewing, or doing other crafts and listening to books on tape or CD. After all this time I don't think I would watch much TV even if I had it. Report
    I record my shows while at work & sometimes while I'm off & busy, then I watch them in my work out room while on the treadmill or eliptical. The only other time I watch tv is at the end of the day when all my chores are done & it's time just relax. I rarely watch tv during the day & if I do, Its just while I'm killing time waiting to go to work... Report
    Being home bound and not very ambulatory, there are three things I rely on: my computer, books and newspapers, and TV. TV is my source of entertainment when I don't want to think too much. Most of what's on it is junk. But I like all the CSIs, Criminal Minds, Numbers, Trauma, The Forgotten, The Good Wife. Report
    I adore TV, I' ve been a fan for decades now. MY lclaims to ame is our family had the first color tv on our block. THe firsr tim I saw the WIzard of Oz in color my jaw dr4opped down a mile! It wa sawesome. Report
    I watch TV; my favorite shows this season are Criminal Minds and Atlanta Housewives. Even when I'm not watching TV, it is on as background noise. I am a happy person most of the time and I socialize well. TV is NOT my life but a small part of it. Report
    I am crazy for TV, and have shows that I do watch faithfully. I don't watch a lot of T.V. in the summer. I would never stay home because one of my favourites is on.....but I would tape it. I can be entertained by the hour, with the "boob Tube" Report
    I'm pretty certain it's not the TV in and of itself, but more the time 'alone' the person is spending trying to distract his/herself from the mundane day-to-day. It may be TV for some, Books for other, Computer Games and/or porn for yet others, or even a combination of all 3. Too much alone time in unnatural for a human, non? Aren't we supposed to be social creatures? One with the tribe? I doubt very much the unhappiness has very much to do with TV, but the person watches too much TV because they are unhappy to begin my experience, myself, my friends, my flatmates, and 25-35yr old male gamers in particular. Life seems to lack purpose for some of us wayward children... Report
    I don't watch TV much but I do have a few favorite shows like Law and Order: Criminal Intent. My husband uses the DVR to save them for me and when I don't have anything else I want to do, I sit and watch them. I don't see anything wrong with that and I don't feel any less happy. Report
    I watch TV sometimes more than I should. I have to disagree with being unhappy because I watch the box, there are times when I just want to rest from doing house work and I go and watch a movie while I paln out dinner or while I fold clothes. Most time it is on for company but at night I watch my cooking shows and a few of the tv investigation shows. But honestly I usually watch around 10:00 pm shows on the cable stations. But I do talk to my husband and my dog. I like to read and the computer gets its workout for the day too. Report
    There are just a few things I like watching on TV. Sometimes I just have the TV on for company when I'm alone, but I don't watch it. Since my son went off to college, the house has been very quiet. Quiet is good, because there is so much noise pollution in the world, but sometimes, I just turn the TV on for noise. My exercise bike is in front of the TV, but I have noticed that when I exercise, I need total quiet so I can concentrate on the pedals. Sometimes everything is too quiet, then sometimes everything is noisy and overwhelming. When I do watch TV sometimes its the old movie channel, a murder mystery movie, Nancy Grace, game show network, or an occassional red sox game, but that has not has been nearly as fun ever since Johnny Damon went to the Yankees. I use to watch cooking with Paula Dean, but I've since noticed it just makes me hungry, so I have not been watching that show recently. I really use to like the naked Chef with Jamie Oliver, I absolutely love him, but I don't know what happened to that show. I do like Shepard Smith on Fox, he is a hoot and a half. I use to like Greta Vansustren, but she has turned to a really political forum now rather than an investigative one, so that sort of turns me off. I do like Medium with Patricia Arquette. I also like The Closer, that woman is a hoot. I'm not a consistent TV watcher, I don't wait for a show to come on, especially in the summer. I like being on our porch, playing scrabble, and other games. Sometimes our street is too noisy but when its quiet its great! Report
    TV is probably my 3rd choice....books and computer generally beat it out. :) Report
    I CONFESS!!! I LOVE TV!! Last night I was watching TV, surfing the net on my laptop and talking on the phone. No one in my house likes to watch TV with me because I am a "flipper". I never watch a TV show all the way through without flipping the channel. When friends call and ask what I am watching I say "The flip channel is on". I never stay home just to watch something because you can usually find it on the net or wait for reruns. Report
    I love watching TV. I usually work out while watching, it actually makes me work out longer, I'll challenge myself to do certain activities till the show ends. I'm not an unhappy person, but I can see why some unhappy people would spend more time watching TV. Report
    Not that much... but the flicker in the TV signal sets off my seizures so I just don't have one around. Whee! Report
    Getting a DVR pretty much freed me of the need to "have" to watch at a particular time. I have certain shows I really like and I tend to hoard the episodes, save them for a day when I'm not feeling well or when it's just too hot or the weather is too bad to do other things (it happens less frequently than you think so it's not an excuse).

    I think that for those of us in high pressure or highly intellectual pursuits there's a real need for the 'mind candy' and like everything else it's okay in moderation. I know some people who turn on the television and watch it just to be watching something and will do so in favor of other more productive activities. I don't do that.

    Also, I think one of the biggest problems is eating in front of the television. We don't any more; I don't even allow the husband to cook back there in the mini-kitchen. Report
    OK so I have some shows I "have" to watch. Lost is one of them, from the beginning. But I will not be someone that "freaks" if I miss it. What I find ironic is that the best programing is more expensive. I wish I could pay only for the programing that I want to see. Out of the 100 channels I have I think I have less then 30 I even scan programs to see if I am interested in. It was funny when the cable guy came to "start me up" (new building) once he got the set in my living room going he started into my bedroom. I had to call him back. I am only one person and don't need multiple TV's. Report
    I am a TV "addict"- when it's a show I am wraped up in , I try hard not the miss it-esp the Law and Order series! But I do exercises while watching many times, and it can be a motivator for me to do them if I've promised myself I can only watch while doing the elliptical or weights. Actually, I find that it's a great distraction, and sometimes I can "psych" myself into not eating. Report
    I LOVE TV. I don't feel that it makes me unhappy - I enjoy the shows I watch thoroughly and it doesn't interfere with the rest of my life. I get up during every commericial to do something (fold a few clothes, clean out dishwasher, pick up the house), etc. It's my way to unwind at night after I have done all the necessary things in my life. I still find time to work out, spend time with the family, keep the housework up, etc. My TV fix *after* all of the above is my "me-time" and there's no way I would go without it! Report
    I enjoy a few programs but I've noticed this past 6 months that television DOES affect my mood, and not usually for the better. I find I'm more prone to cravings, because I see people eating, even on the shows. I'm more prone to feeling badly about my life, and my body image, and I'm more prone to being irritable. I also know I have a tendency to waste nights away in front of the tv, and use it to avoid bed. I've also noticed that if I get deeply involved, my emotions can be led by the emotional tone of the show...not usually a good thing.

    So I'm slowly weaning myself off tv as much as possible. Now there are some good shows I enjoy, especially on PBS and I think I'll try to rent my favorite series on DVD, so I can watch them when I want. But my goal is to sell my tv and use my computer for DVDs and fill my life with other activities, and so far, this past 6-8 weeks, it's been a big success. It's amazing how much more I get done, and how much I enjoy the silence in my house, with the tv off. Report
    I wonder if all of those reports included people who turn the TV on for "noise" but don't actually sit and watch it? I watch TV. I have an analytical mind and I love watching sports so my TV is usually tuned in to a game (NFL, MLB, NCAA football or basketball) or a reality TV show where competing is involved. Yes, I watch Survivor, Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef, Biggest Loser, America's Next Top Model, Amazing Race, etc. I get caught up in competition and strategy. It's also interesting to watch human nature and the dynamics between different types of people who are competing for prizes. When they get too nasty/mean/ugly, I drop the show like a hot potato. I don't want to tune in to listen to people scream, curse, and argue. But, I'm always doing something else while the TV is on. (Working out, washing dishes, ironing, folding laundry, etc.) Report
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