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Is Television making you Unhappy? 5 Steps for getting it under control

20/01/2014 10:04



“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace.”  John Lennon


On average as a nation, we spend four hours, two minutes a day watching television.  This is apart from the time we spend reading and talking about what’s on our goggle box.  Of the 10 million UK Twitter users, approximately 60% tweet about what they’ve watched on TV.  It’s a large part of how we choose to spend our free time and relax.  Our addiction to television not only influences what we think about though also our mood and how we interact (or not) in our relationships.  What affect then is television really having on our health and family life?

In 1997, Professor Graham Davey did an experiment exploring the psychological effects of watching the news. His team created short fictional negative news bulletins such as a story about famine alongside positive and neutral news headlines. These were then shown to different groups.  The results showed that those who had watched the negative news stories felt more anxious and sad than those who had seen the positive and neutral bulletins.  In fact, the negative stories had the effect of triggering the individual to think more about their own problems and imagine a negative outcome as well.  The conclusion drawn is that sad news is more likely to make us feel unhappy and feel pessimistic about changing our own future.

Watching violent television may even change the way our brains function.  One study showed that watching violent scenes reduced the amount of blood flow to the ventromedial frontal lobe that governs decision making and self control.  With children, a NZ study found that children who watched the most TV between 5 and 15 grew up to have the highest criminal convictions and anti social behavior.  This may also be the fault of neglectful parenting and not just the influence of television. 

On the positive side, watching television has also shown in studies to help us feel less lonely and more connected to other people.  Comedy programmes were shown to make people feel the happiest though those aged 65 and over said children’s shows made them happy because they watched them with their grandchildren.  Dr Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness says “we could all benefit from more programmes that boost our own telehappiness, but also help us to see the good in the world and inspire us to contribute to it.”  Here’s some tips for creating a more positive relationship with your television set:

  • Examine how much television you and your family watch per day.  If it is over 3 hours, consider reducing it by getting involved in other activities like playing games or doing something creative that you can do together. A Coaching client of mine who came to see me said he reduced the amount he watched from 4 to 2 hours a day and reported his happiness and productivity levels have equally doubled!
  • Try going on a News Diet and notice if it affects your mood over the course of a month.  I often suggest to clients suffering with Anxiety or Depression to limit the amount of news they watch and they often feel noticeably better.  Be more conscious of what television you are watching and if it is sending your mood up or downwards.
  • Notice how watching certain television programmes affect your behaviour.  Talking of diets- Morrisons recently reported a 25% increase in the sales of baking trays when the Great British Bake Off was shown.  I don’t have to tell you the effects of sitting on the sofa for four hours a night can have on you and your family’s waistline either!  The influences of TV on our buying behavior have been well documented though it may be worth noting the effects for yourself.
  • Watch happier programmes.  You may enjoy watching violence or horror though as the research says, it may be affecting your mood and behaviour.  Think about what lifts your mood or makes you laugh and try watching more of those programmes or films, especially when you’re feeling low or anxious.
  • Everything in moderation.  It is best not to have an ‘all or nothing’ view of either seeing television as being a negative or positive influence on you.  Instead, decide where the balance lies for you.  I’d suggest being more discriminatory about how much and what kinds of television you watch is a good idea.  Also write down a list of other activities that you and your children enjoy that are relaxing and fun that are less passive and try at least one a week. You might enjoy those pursuits so much you don’t miss the television at all!


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