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How can watching TV affect my happiness?

Dr. Peter Bongiorno, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Television's role in influencing the mental state of our society has been profound. Most people seem to enjoy coming home at night and turning on the TV. Like any opiate, it's a way for many to "get away" from the stress of our day. In the short term TV seems to have a relaxing effect. Studies using functional MRI during TV viewing have determined that humorous TV programming can activate regions of the brain called the insular cortex and amygdala, which are areas activated and needed for balanced mood.

Analysis of over 30 years of U.S. national data shows that spending time watching television may contribute to viewers' happiness in the moment, but the longer-term effects are not good. In these studies, participants reported that on a scale from 0 (dislike) to 10 (greatly enjoy), TV-watching was nearly an 8. Despite these high marks, it seems that the enjoyment from TV was very short lasting and gave way to discontent. What was found is that unhappy people glue themselves to the television 30% more than happy people. Unhappy people report watching 25 hours of television a week while happy people sit for an average of 19 hours (which is still quite an alarming number). These results held even after taking into account education, income, age and marital status.

This data from nearly 30,000 adults led the authors of this study to conclude, "TV doesn't really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does. We looked at 8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in, and for each one, the people who did the activities more -- visiting others, going to church, all those things -- were more happy. TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less. The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise.

In short, happy people do not watch a lot of TV.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.