A study came out of the University of Maryland that concludes that watching television contributes to viewers’ happiness in the short term, but has negative affects in the long run. In other words they found that those who say they are unhappy on average watch more TV while those who are happy spend more time socializing with others and reading. This study analyzes 30 years of national data through a series of attitude surveys.
“TV doesn’t really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does,” says University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson, the study co-author and a pioneer in time-use studies. “It’s more passive and may provide escape – especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself. The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise.”
In the study, Robinson and fellow sociologist Steven Martin, analyzed two sets of data collected over 30 years from 30,000 adults.
Short Term Gratification, Long Term Harm
They found that people who described themselves as happy were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read more newspapers. By contrast, unhappy people watched significantly more television in their spare time.
The data showed that in the long term it has an adverse affect on happiness. More TV simply meant less time to socialize, make friends, and engage in social activity. The unhappy group were more likely to think they had too much extra time. 51 percent thought they had too much time verses only 19 percent of those who said they were happy.
Living in the Moment
The most fascinating aspect of this study is that “in the moment”, subjects thought highly of watching TV as an activity despite the data clearly showing that the more they watched the more likely they would be unhappy. The respondents wrote time-diaries about their daily activities. This data seems to paint a different picture as in the given moment the respondents rated TV viewing as a something they enjoy and a good daily activity. “What viewers seem to be saying is that ‘While TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, the shows I saw tonight were pretty good,’ ” Robinson says. The data also suggested that part of the reason was because TV viewing was “easy”. It is immediate gratification with a touch of a button. No need to dress up, find a place to go, find people, plan out the day, do any work or expend energy or money. It is no wonder Americans spend more than half their free time watching TV.
TV Viewing like Addiction?
Martin described the TV viewing like an addiction. “Addictive activities produce momentary pleasure but long-term misery and regret,” he says. “People most vulnerable to addiction tend to be socially or personally disadvantaged. For this kind of person, TV can become a kind of opiate in a way. It’s habitual, and tuning in can be an easy way of tuning out.”
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