Friday, November 21, 2008

Television and Happiness

I miss television.

And yet, I don’t.

I miss the passion of watching television, of interacting in a community that cares and loves its television.

I hear all the time that I care too much about “stupid” stuff—the stuff no one else thinks about. But I seriously doubt that most people I come in contact with spend their days thinking about ways to reverse the economic crisis, how to eradicate poverty or to lessen our grip on gasoline on any wide-ranging scale. They worry about their own petty concerns, about boyfriends and girlfriends and their annoying neighbor or boss.

And then they come home and pass out in front of the television.

A study came out in Social Indicators Research that happy people tend to not watch a lot of TV. They’re too busy socializing to watch television.

Now, socializing and television go together like milk and cookies: they complement each other nicely, but one is not necessary for the other to be enjoyed. Truth is, often when socializing with television the television eventually fades into the background, overtaken by thoughts of the show or just general topics.

There was a recent study that purported that churchgoers tend to be happier than atheists or agnostics, and a lot of that is based around the church community. Church communities are powerful forces, and a comparable network for those who are not into religion doesn’t really exist. Many people hide their true religious feelings to be part of the fold of a church community.

Happiness, for many people, also derives from a passion, a purpose to life, also filled with good friends (and I’d add, good books and good food). A church community often has these things in abundance (well, minus the good food).

So why do unhappy people watch more TV? A few theories:

1) TV is easy. Socializing with others takes effort, time and work. Sometimes, it’s just hard to schedule it in. Sometimes people, even your friends, are annoying. But television is always there, waiting for you to pick up the remote. It’s the path of least resistance. TV can be on in the background while cleaning, getting dressed, or eating.

2) Because it lends itself so easily to these properties, unhappy people can easily drown out their unhappiness by lounging in front of the TV, absorbed in a story or documentary. There’s always something on, even if it’s not remotely interesting.

3) It’s a cycle. Watch a lot of television, eat a lot, gain weight, feel like crap = not seeing friends because you feel like crap, so stay in and watch more television.

4) When there are other options, TV usually loses. Especially now that we can catch many things online, if we have the opportunity to go to a bar with friends, go to the gym, or just hang out with others, sitting alone in your room watching TV just doesn’t seem that much fun. You can catch up on it later.

I’ve always been of the mind that if you watch too much TV, you have too much time on your hands. (Yet, curiously, I have never applied that same logic to the Internet/computers. Probably because you can do so much more online.) It's far too easy in this world to be insular, especially now that we can conceivably meet all our needs without ever leaving the house (as was showcased in a recent episode of House). We need connection to live. That's something that television tells us far too often; we're just usually not paying attention.


John said...

I don't trust that study. If anything, I think it proves that churchgoers (especially staunchly conservative ones) say they're happier because they're taught that any unhappy thoughts they might have are sinful or heretical. Plus, it's easy to be happy when you believe that everything good happens because He loves you, while anything bad is a test or part of a bigger plan because He moves in mysterious ways. Like the man says, "It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." (Oh, snap! did he just call them pigs?! What has Barack Obama started?)

Also, I'd like to point out that when I flop down on the couch after a hard day's work, the TV is almost invariably tuned to MSNBC, where I listen to the godless Liberal talking heads discuss how to reverse the economic crisis and how to lessen our grip on gasoline.

Finally, who calls the stuff you care about "stupid?" That's just flat-out rude!

MediaMaven said...

Good point, John. I do hate the platitudes of "it wasn't meant to be", "everything will work out in the end", etc. etc. I find them to be irritating, not comforting, statements.

"If anything, I think it proves that churchgoers (especially staunchly conservative ones) say they're happier because they're taught that any unhappy thoughts they might have are sinful or heretical."

That's suspect teaching if you're told that unhappy thoughts are sinful. I don't think most religions teach that--unhappy thoughts are a part of life.