Secrets For Lasting Happiness With Simple Changes
The average American adult watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Meanwhile, 17 percent of the American public has been diagnosed with clinical depression. It’s also worth noting that the United States has the dubious honor of being the country with both the highest rates of television watching (nearly double the country in second place) as well as depression. Now, of course, I am not suggesting that television is the sole cause of unhappiness. However, it may be a significant contributing factor.
According to a General Social Survey conducted since 1970 by the University of Chicago, happy people watch significantly less television than do unhappy people. And that result is true even after factoring in other factors such as income, marital status, age, and income. Again, that doesn’t prove that television makes people unhappy, but it does show that there is a connection between happiness and television watching. What might that connection be?
Short Term Happiness, Long Term Unhappiness
According to surveys, Americans on average rate their enjoyment of television watching as an 8 out of 10. There’s good reason for that. It turns out that when researchers have studied the effects of television on the brain and body what they have found is that television places people into a hypnotic state. In the short term that means that television can offer a reprieve from the stresses and sorrows of one’s life.
However, the benefits of television in this regard only last as long as one is watching television. As soon as the screen goes blank the effects wear off and the person who was watching television is left with the same state that he had prior to watching television and no greater skill for dealing with it.
Because television can temporarily relieve stresses, it has the potential to become psychologically addictive. And since turning off the television quickly becomes associated with a return of stress, television watchers can become conditioned to want to watch television without end...or at least until falling asleep for the night.
Unfortunately, researchers have found that television watching creates a significant increase in the risk of insomnia. This should come as no surprise. If a person watches television to tune out the stress and unresolved challenges of life and if that continues until falling asleep, then once asleep all of those stresses resurface, potentially waking the person.
The other downside of television watching in this context is that it is often done at the expense of other potentially enjoyable and beneficial activities. For example, most people watch television while sitting on a soft couch or chair indoors. That means that they aren’t outside in the sun and fresh air, they aren’t walking or doing other forms of healthy exercise, and they aren’t socially engaged. They’re not even having sex with a loving partner! So in addition to prolonging dealing with the stresses and challenges of life, television can replace or put off the sorts of activities that are known to lead to greater happiness.
Another negative of television is largely due to the modern format. In the early days of television, as in the early days of movies, the standard was to use long takes of up to a minute or even longer. What that means is that the viewer would see a single “shot” - a single perspective - for a relatively long time. The effect was that of steadiness and calmness, offering the viewer the time to think.
However, over the decades the average shot length has decreased to just 3 seconds! In some cases the average shot length can be even shorter. Go ahead and check this out some time. Turn on the television with the volume off, and look at it out of the side of your field of vision so that you can just notice the pace at which the camera perspective changes. Don’t pay any attention to the show itself, but rather, just notice how quickly it jumps from one shot to the next. And then notice how you feel. Do you feel steady and calm with time to think?
The pace of shots in television is not accidental. The television companies are in the business of making money, which they do by controlling what people think. They found that by decreasing the average shot length they were able to prevent people from thinking on their own. Instead, television watchers are placed into a hypnotic state and fed what to think without even knowing it.
Part of the problem with the fast pace of television, however, is not only that it manipulates what people think, but that it can make people feel discontent with the slow pace of real life. Researchers have tied television viewing to attention deficit, meaning that people who watch more television are more likely to be discontent with the natural pace of real life. They will be less likely to find enjoyment in the natural pleasures of real life and real relationships.
As already mentioned, television can manipulate the way that you think and the way you perceive. In fact, researchers have even found that television can affect the way that people dream!
Television has been found to activate the right side of the brain more than the left, meaning that it subverts critical analysis. That is great for advertiser and for those pushing political messages placed within shows, but not so great for you. Researchers have found that television reliably manipulates the way that people think and perceive even if they don’t know it.
As mentioned, television can even manipulate the way in which you dream. Researchers have found that those who grew up watching black and white television are much more likely to dream in black and white compared to those who grew up with color televisions!
Although having television producers control your thinking and perception doesn’t necessarily make you less happy, it does make you servile. So when television watchers find themselves unhappy, they are less likely to have the knowledge or the ability to make positive changes compared with those who watch less television.
How To Be Happier
When researchers have looked at the unhappiness of those who watch a lot of television, they’ve also asked the question, “What do happy people do instead?” It turns out that compared to unhappy televisions watchers, happy people tend to read, socialize, and exercise significantly more.
The good news is that it seems that even a modest reduction in television watching paired with a modest increase in reading, socializing, and exercise can make a huge difference in one’s happiness. So if you want to experience some more happiness, turn off the television more often. Then, instead, find enjoyable ways to read, socialize, and exercise. Any reading will do. You don’t have to read high literature or the Wall Street Journal to benefit. You can read the latest Clancey, King, or Patterson if you prefer. Socialize more often, which could be anything from taking your lover out to dinner to having some friends over for an evening to calling up an old friend or family member. And exercise needn’t be strenuous. Just getting outside and going for an easy stroll is more than good enough.
So, there you have it, you can be incrementally happier by following these simple steps. You don’t have to do a whole life makeover in one fell swoop. Just make small, sustainable, enjoyable changes, and you will be sure to experience the benefits.