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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    Nope. When I moved out of my parent's house, I chose not to get cable because I knew it was a waste of time and money and I am able to *do* more things because I don't spend an hour or two in front of the TV daily. I guess I'm one of the (I think) 2% of Americans without cable. I just think it's kind of nuts. people aren't willing to pay more for fresh produce, but they're willing to drop $50 a month on cable? I'm never going to have cable again and I don't miss it one bit. Report
    Your going to think this is strange but I don't own a TV because it interfered with my life too much. I would stay up and watch movies and have to be to work the next (or same) day. It was just too difficult. I had no control over myself so I gave it away. Now I strictly use my computer. I do miss out on a lot of news though. Report
    I could live without watching tv, but not for too long. Maybe three hours or so. I look forward to watching the funny sitcoms. Lately, I enjoy The Big Bang Theory. I think watching tv helps to block out the little annoyances of everyday life. Report
    I work evenings. When I get home, I love to take a shower and turn on the tube. It helps me chill so I can go to sleep. I record my favorite shows. I try to make sure I don't stay awake too late. I want to get up and get going at a reasonable time in the morning. A social life is hard to come by when life has so many demands, but ON DEMAND lets me watch my favorite shows on my time. Report
    I don't own a TV, so the only time I watch TV is if I'm at a friend or family member's house, and I'm usually socializing with them, so I don't see much. I get bored with TV really quickly as a result - it draws me in, but then I get restless and want to do something else. Report
    Yes I used to really enjoy TV. then I got into a standoff with Comcast so now I only have basic tv. There are certain shows I enjoy however I am spending less time watching tv and now doing other things. Report
    I'm allergic to TV! The projection cycles are multiples or submultiples of certain brainwave patterns. In me, that triggers seizures. So... no TV here. Computer (with adaptive setup), lots of music, and reading and playing with animals are more my speed. And no cable fees! Report
    I always have the TV on. I like to have the background noise and will read with it on. Sometimes I'll have the radio on, but it's usually the TV and I do have to admit, it is a big time-waster for me. I can understand watching TV because I might be unhappy, but I don't think it would make me unhappy. TV watching can be an enjoyable experience without being detrimental, especially when there are specific shows that are entertaining. Report
    i can't believe this is one of your old blogs, coach dean...i've just read your anticipating-ECT blog and thought i'd like a lighter blog and i do,unfortunately, very much like tv and i wondered who else was admitting to was only watch 2 hours a day...i am SURE that is NOT an addiction level for viewing...if i am awake and at home, my tv is on -- not an exaggeration i am sorry to say...but i DO believe PART of that is from living alone...AND i also have heard "be still and know that I am here" which bothers me as i seem to avoid that very comforting feeling...also, though, i babysit--and when i am at the little ones' homes, the tv is only on for the half hour before nap to get them to sit still and settle down...i PREFER the stinkerdinks to the tv...when i go to my dad's, i TRY to get us to play board games or CHARADES or PICTIONARY or TEXAS HOLD'EM but my dad, i believe lacking social skills, loves to plop in front of the tv...THAT does make me feel like he'd rather not interact than to play/converse with my sister and me...but he being an OLD dog, can have a pass--but then he can't expect us to stay longer than a night or 2 on a visit, if we don't get to play...]
    ANYWAY, yes, tv can be an escape, but as YOU have suggested, every person is entitled to 'me' time--for some a bubble bath or a naughty book or blowing bubbles or flying kites OR tv...for now, give me aTV--but after your blog, since i HAVE been more blue lately,i will be more discerning and opt for swimming more often...thanks for another GOOD blog(^_^)...karen3 Report
    I watch a lot of TV - I have favorite shows I record while I'm at work or busy outside the house, then I catch up on my days off. I'm single, work out at home and walk the dogs daily. While I watch TV, I read, use the computer, play with the dogs or cats ... multi-tasking?, you better believe it! Report
    Hmm I like tv sometimes. I have a few shows I like to watch if they are on, like House and Law and Order:SVU, also cartoons (but I'm an aspiring animator, I need to know what current in my field). However, I have ADHD and find I can't sit still while I watch tv unless I am doing something else. Usually I'll have an art project/sketch book or my laptop in front of me, recently I've been updating my nutrition tracker while I watch XD. I'm not sure if TV itself makes you unhappy, but I think your attitude toward tv which could cause you to be unhappy. I have friends who can't go to sleep without the tv on, or who can't miss their shows for anything, and will often leave parties or get togethers to go watch them. Those kinds of behaviors I think could cause already unhappy people to be more unhappy. I don't think TV directly causes happy people to become uphappy, rather it has really shown us that it can quite easily become a catalyst for already unhappy people to become even more so. Report
    TV is on all the time, not to watch but to listen. I guess I use it as a radio, with the ability to see visual when necessary. Silence can be deafening for me, because I start thinking too much, and that turns into worrying, and then that turns into anxiety. See the revolving door... also the sound keeps me company when I want to be alone...but not. Report
    I like TV. But I like DVDs of TV shows, in particular.

    My current vice is Stargate SG-1. I'm addicted to it and knit/crochet/clean or draw while I watch. I do my run/exercise after work, cook dinner, watch an ep, do any chores I need to do, then watch eps until time for bed. I'm very happy but my SO works different hours than I do and I like to watch something while I craft. Also, SG1 is pretty much the best thing ever.

    Past TV shows that got me include LOST, Buffy, and Angel.
    I don't consider it an issue as I work out, get my stuff done, work on hobbies, read at least two books a week and have a fun, full life. I just love some shows! Report
    I watch about the same number of hours, maybe 2 per night, Mon - Thurs. Maybe if they put something good on Friday. Nothing is on Saturday, and 60 Minutes is in repeat mode now; so nothing Sunday. Not only is it how I unwind ( though occassionally, I make up a treadmill date, or do upper body and core work while it's on - but it's also social for me. I think that at least 1 hour, in bits and pieces, of socializing at work revolves on what we watched on tv the night before, or about what's going to be on the coming night. Most of us seem to get caught up in Dancing with the Stars, Am. Idol and So you Think You Can Dance. They've caught us almost year round. If you don't watch, you're kind of left behind and out of the laugh track for the next morning at work! So, as far as my work staff is concerned - TV IS social! So ~ Fa la la la la! Report
    I love watching TV and several of my friends, including my sister, watch some of the same shows and we discuss, critique and analyze them just like the critics! We love analyzing a plot and why it did or did not work or would another actor/actress have been better in the part. We laugh and have so much fun and we've been doing it since the days of Mission Impossible and Dallas! Report
    I do not watch television passively. If I find something that sounds interesting, I will watch. I do not reserve time to watch television programming. I do, however, reserve time to watch movies on the television. That's family time. The whole family watches videos together.

    It might be that unhappy people watch the television programming because they hunger for mental and emotional stimulation. Report
    Watching TV is my down time. I work, work out, take care of my family, and volunteer, so I don't get a lot of that. I tape my favorite shows and watch them when I have a chance. Or sometimes I just mindlessly click through the channels. I love to read, but that is an active pursuit. So I refuse to feel guilty about a little relaxation! Report
    I like to watch TV also-the Biggest Loser is the only show that I never miss! I have to be home on Tuesday nights to watch it. The other shows I can take or leave as I know at some point they will be on reruns. Report
    I watch TV for the enjoyment. I have shows that I watch each day & if I can't watch them I tape to watch on Saturday evening, when there's really nothing on TV. I watch documentaries as well as regular TV, & I watch an exercise show & follow along with as many exercises as I can. While I'm watching the regular shows, I get my dumbbells out & do crunches. Also, when I'm watching TV I eat less. I know most people eat more while watching TV, but I don't, I crochet, knit, or do exercises of some sort & can still tell you what's going on in the show & not lose a stitch. Report
    I love tv. It's a good way to unwind a little after a day at work - and it's entertaining! I've been watching less lately as since the beginning of the year I've been working out. There's less time now. I haven't really been watchng enough to have that many regular favorites - but i do have a few that I won't miss.

    Doing weight lifting in front of the tv is a good idea. I might have to pick that up. Report
    TV is a huge time waster. We cut the cable and if we want news we go online, if we want a movie we rent it. This makes us think and plan the time spent in front of the tube instead of just sitting there absorbing mass commercialism and mindless shows. At one time, my kids were so glued to it we weren't getting anything done!! So I called the cable company and said SHUT IT OFF!! My husband and I noticed an immediate change in the kids behavior, literally within 24 hours of not being subjected to the onslaught of smart-mouthed kids on children's networks and the crazy over-the-top characters on cartoons. It was like a whole new fresh world was opened up because we weren't sitting around waiting for the next show to entertain the family. And the wracked nerves from all the stress-inducing commercials-GONE!! Try it for a week and you will feel like you have been set from from mind-control! Report
    I think most people like to watch TV, but that it will only make you unhappy if you are already kind of unhappy. Report
    This study might have some truth to it. I know I watch alot of TV. I am more than willing to sit in front of the TV than to do my daily house chores or to work out but I have come to a compromise. I do all my chores then walk on the treadmill while I watch my shows. That way I am happy to be in front of the TV and doing my daily walk. Report
    After reading this blog, I was already to answer, then I thought about it some more. I noticed that as I put on weight I do tend to watch more TV. I guess it's up to each of us to look inside and determine what our reasons are for watching or not. This doesn't mean I'm tossing my TV, but I'm going to stop and think when I turn it on when I get home from work, why I'm watching and if there is something else I could do for at least another half hour. Baby steps. Report
    I like TV too! I watch the Today Show in the morning and Katie Couric in the evening for my daily dose of news. Also now we are watching The Biggest Loser. Most of my Treadmill workouts are while watching evening TV or we put a movie in. Are we are a nation of spoiled viewers? Yesterday's coverage of the Inaugural was incredible. Guess we won't be giving up our TV anytime soon. Report
    I watch Law and Order: SVU, I can relate to it and I love the show. I've also become addicted to Nip/Tuck and other Law and Order kinds.

    I don't own a television at my own home, but I do use my computer to download shows that are popular like Dexter and watch them usually in a boring weekend and then don't watch tv again for a while. Report
    I like tv. But a few months ago, I rarely watched it at all. I found I was much more productive around the house and read a lot more. This wasn't a conscious decision, I guess I just got more involved in other things. Now the tv is back on at night and strangely I am less productive, even during the day hours when the silly thing is not on. But there are programs I really enjoy at least 4 days of the week, so just need to find the balance. BUT I AM NOT UNHAPPY, either as the cause or the effect of watching, I don't think the tv can actually cause you to be unhappy. Report
    I am a research-a-holic (LOL!!) that knows there's some way... not yet understood... but some way to create a world and go live on it, sooo... I guess you could say, TV and me... we be mates! I know there's a lot of TRASH on them, but that's why there's a remote CONTROL and a MUTE button!! It's hard to imagine my life without the TV playing my favorite SoundScapes music through out most of my sleep mode, or losing opportunities to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, ice skating, pageants, specials on PBS or the Hallmark channels... my thrill of archeology on the History or Discovery channels... musicals, or a special holiday entertainments... If I had the CASH to go to parades, zoos, museums hosting specials like, The Tsar's Treasures (which btw, I did actually have the GREAT enjoyment of getting to see) I'd be the first one in line to visit every aquarium, or any science and industry museum... and ESPECIALLY any art museum that I could, and probably the last one they'd be waiting on to close the doors, but... unfortunately, my finances can not contain my THIRST for knowledge or imagination!! If I didn't have the Travel channel, there'd go my tours of exotic places- no bicycling the South of France- no seeing the Great Pyramids- no computer graphics of what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or Greek Temples really looked like!! Nope, TV and me... we be mates!! At least... until... that money tree starts producing, but I think I got a DUD!! LOL!! If that makes me an unhappy person, then WOW, I really am the MOST happy unhappy person there is. Is that like an UN-Birthday? LOL!! Take Care, Loves, Annie Report
    I rarely watch TV because I find most of it boring. If I am sick and confined to bed without the energy to read, I may watch a little -- like the news, Christian programs or animal programs. Report
    p.s. snakelady, i found your comments interesting; thanks for sharing your thoughts. even though i don't consider myself christian, i felt a kinship with where you were coming from in a number of your examples, especially the ways i think tv ends up homogenizing culture, narrowing ideas of what's acceptable/ideal, and goading us into even more of a consumerist bent.

    when i was a kid, tv was limited in our house, and that definitely sent me outdoors more, which i now think is very cool. i've had more than enough opportunities to live exclusively indoors as an adult (how sad). Report
    we had a dvr a while back, but now we've got no paid programming and no dvr, either. we had to get rid of digital cable because of expense, but also because we had a tendency to want to veg out when we were feeling less motivated or depressed, and it ate up a lot of time. the best shows for distracting ourselves were really schlocky reality shows, and then we'd feel blargy that we'd lost an hour or more of our lives on, basically, audio-visual trash.

    what we do now is rent seasons of a few shows on dvd and watch them slowly over time. or watch stuff streaming on the internet (or via youtube). the best show we've watched, by far, is ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. the episodes are hilarious, and it's fabulous to have an episode-long laugh-fest every now and then. you can find them streaming online for free, i think, at msnbc, but it's worth it to rent 'em for the extras.

    and for extra fun, you can jump around on a mini-tramp while you watch. both things totally lift my spirits. Report
    i do enjoy watching TV. Our Tivo is awesome! We got our first box years ago from a friend who worked for Tivo. At first we watched A LOT. Now only what we want - when we want. Its fun, its entertaining and for us a good way to slow down at the end of the day. Report
    I haven't had a tv since 1984, when I became a Christian. Please don't get me wrong--watching TV in & of itself isn't a sin. Sometimes I watch with friends or when I stay at a motel. But would the culture portrayed on television be a blessing to God, or would it make Him sad?

    Humans are creatures with a culture, and culture is learned. TV has a strong influence on the mind, and the lifestyles shown on TV aren't healthy ones, in my opinion. They teach us to consume more than we need rather than being thankful to simply be alive. They teach women that physical beauty is more important than inner character. They promote extravagant use of plastics, disposable everything, vehicles and land. (Isn't it ironic that vehicles that destroy beautiful natural areas are so often advertised sitting on top of them? Junk food is everywhere, exceeded only by swearing and blatant sexual scenes. Homes are huge and always color-coordinated. Children on television are portrayed as being more mature than kids ought to be--let's let our kids be kids!

    Plus, we are so accustomed to having noise all around us, that we rarely experience quiet anymore. While I'm on a treadmill, I like to read books. When running or walking outdoors, I listen to the birds, talk to God, thank Him for the sky, and pray for my friends & family. By the time I'm done, I am filled with more than a runner's high--I have a peace and joy that transcends any troubles I might be going through. Report
    I am guilty of watching tv more then I should.Certain shows cannot miss. Sometimes they take me out of my life and into someone I wish I could be. Soap opera queen, nice clothes, money but really no job, kids that look at their parents and really do great in school, job ect. Do I wish my life were different well of course. Will it be no Report
    I loooooooooooooooove t.v.... always have. I like dramas, dont do reality tv and not too much for comedy anymore. I love movies also. If Im not at work, my tv is on. Sad but true. Report
    Suppose there could be some truth to it for some based on some of the posts. Personally I consider myself a happy person - I have time set aside to work, study, volunteer, go out with friends and family, time with spouse. But still love my TiVo and TV and when I just want to veg, TV is it. Report
    I use TV to escape on occassion... I mosttly use books to escape. The unhappier I am, the more I read. My husband can tell when I'm REALLY depressed by the amount of reading I do to "willfully refuse some deep calling to fulfill some as yet unrealized higher potential in myself, and settle for watching (reading about) other people do that on TV"

    I can tell when I'm missing something in my life /not doing something I should because I cry when I see it on TV or read about it. Then I think "I should be doing that." So as far as escapes go - it can also be a mirror.

    Maybe TV gets a bad rap. Report
    I have always loved watching tv, and I know that growing up I watched too much. It was really my only source of activity, and I can remember days of staying home alone, planning my whole day out to the TV Guide. Yeah, I don't think I was happy. However, I enjoy my entertainment, my getting away from it all. I think that makes me happy, just as reading a good book (which I do more than watch tv) does the same. I know there's lots of studies about the passivity of it and how that's not good, but I don't think it's all bad. Sometimes I wish I could be one of those people who has no tv in her house, but it's not going to happen. I know there's more worthwhile activities to be doing, and if I could be doing them, I would, but sometimes just sitting down in front of the tube is the only option, so I take it. I also exercise while watching shows, so there's a plus. It keeps me from watching the time tick by on the clock! I think if I watched a lot of tv again, it would be a signal that something wasn't right in my life, but I feel like I've got a good balance as an adult. Report
    I used to watch too much tv so I gave it away. Now I watch selected programmes with my folks but other than that I feel quite content. I also have less distraction when I do my studies. It works for me. Report
    I have a treadmill at home. I put a TV and Tivo directly in front of it. A very large portion of my TV viewing is done while exercising because of it's location. It keeps me on the treadmill longer without being bored, so it's the best of all worlds! Report
    I love to watch TV! I think the DVR is the best invention ever because I can watch my shows on my time. That way it does not interfere with my social activites or my workout time! Report
    I think you can be happy and watch TV - I have it on while I work, and I get far more done than I would with just music or slience. There's also a lot of really great inspiring shows - it all depends on what you pick.

    But I can see the other side, where unhappy people might be watching more TV and not going out there enjoying life. Report
    I LOVE to watch tv! That is when I do my treadmill time. Report
    I love TV, expecially movies, documentaries, Biggest Loser, PBS, CSI Miami, WNTW, channels for home, yoga, food, cooking, and BBCA. I don't like all the old repeats though. Report
    OK, I can tell you from experience that this makes a lot of sense. I suffer from lifelong depression and I will always have it. It is controlled by medication, but sometimes I can't get it or it needs to be changed. When I'm doing well the t.v. is background noise for other activities or a couple of hours of my "favorites". If, however, I'm not doing so well I will watch alot of t.v. and basically isolate myself with t.v. for company which creates a vicious cycle. It's really all pretty much common sense. Report
    i love watching tv,but am trying to cut down and excercise instead! Report
    I love tv....especially reality tv !! Report
    I watch wat too much. Anything but the news. Too depressing. Report
    Oh, yeah. House, Diagnosis X, Emergency Room Mysteries, & always Chritian Music Channel or FitTv. Report
    I live in a big house and we watch a lot of TV. It's normally always on. HOWEVER...we don't 'veg' out in front of the TV. We're constantly having a conversation (Most of the time not related to TV) and we do a ton of family activities together. We're all huge sports fans, so thats what is mostly on. My daughter is two and she has a couple of shows on Noggin she loves, like the Backyardigans, Blues Clues and Pinky Dinky Doo. She sings and dances and plays the games and likes to tell me what's going on in the shows. We are all very happy people, my husband and I have a great marriage and our daughter is wonderful and not brainwashed, lol. Everyone does what they feel is the best thing I guess, TV isn't bad as long as you control what is on for your kids and you don't let it run or interfere with your mental and emotional wellness. TV doesn't interfere with our excercise, family time, meal time, personal time or anything else. Could I go all day without the TV? Most definitely. Report
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