Happy People Watch Less TV – Research Report

A new study from the University of Maryland’s sociology department provides evidence for what many teachers, parents, and therapists have long suspected: Happy people watch less television.

John Robinson, UM sociology and the author of the study, and his colleagues relied on 35 years of data collected by the University of Chicago General Social Survey. The study incorporated data from about 45,000 Americans. The UM study looked at peoples’ level of happiness and then drew correlations with 10 activities, including going to church, visiting friends, reading newspapers, and watching television.

All of the activities were more likely engaged in by happy people, with the prominent exception of watching TV. In that case, the happiest people watched the least. The least happy people watched the most. The data is correlative, not necessarily causal. Does unhappiness lead to more time in front of the tube, or vice-versa?

“I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy,” Dr. Robinson said. The best predictor of how much time one watches television is whether one is employed. Unemployment can lead to unhappiness, and to more TV time. A controlled study would be very difficult, so causation may never be demonstrated. Still, the study is certainly an indication that excessive time watching TV will usually be an indicator of dissatisfaction.

© Copyright 2008 by Daniel Brezenoff, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jenna

    November 24th, 2008 at 6:40 PM

    I think lonely people spend more time in front of the tv

  • Matt

    November 25th, 2008 at 12:36 AM

    My mom grew increasingly depressed after my dad passed away. Whenever we used to call, we used to find her watching tv and sounding very dull. I would definitely say tv viewing is one of the main activities depressed people indulge in.

  • cindy

    November 25th, 2008 at 2:06 AM

    I know when I am in front of the tv more, i get bored and restless and have to get up and do something. I find myself the happiest when I am actively doing something with my hands such as creating jewelry, sewing, or working out.

  • kylie

    November 25th, 2008 at 2:07 AM

    I don’t watch that much tv, only when I get home from work and it’s usually after I finish cleaning the kitchen up after supper and picking up. I agree that we are more happier when we are out doing something.

  • tudy

    November 25th, 2008 at 2:10 AM

    This sounds too true, with me anyway. I like to watch a little tv at night, but during the day, I like to be kept busy doing something creative

  • Maggie

    November 26th, 2008 at 5:17 AM

    I hate the television- I rarely watch anymore. I would much rather do some reading or even work outside in my yard. I am fond of calling the television in my house the idiot box because when my husband and kids all sit down to watch it is as if they are losing brain cells right then and there! They completely zone out and that drives me insane. I have always set viewing time limits on my kids- is it too late to do that with my husband as well? He would watch all day long if he could!

  • Avril

    November 27th, 2008 at 12:05 AM

    an ex co worker of m ine watches television all day long. it started after she lost her job and her boyfriend all within a month. She’s not a close friend so there’s nothing we can do but watch and fel bad. she does nothing all day, dayafter day

  • Miles

    November 28th, 2008 at 1:17 PM

    I knew that this would eventually be found to be the case! I find that most people who I know who watch TV all of the time are really unhappy about something in their lives and they use the television as a means for escape rather than confronting what is really going on. I do not necessarily think that TV is the root of all evil but I do think there are some who get sucked into the escapist mentality of it and can never find their way back out.

  • Hillary

    November 28th, 2008 at 7:25 PM

    TV viewing is an addiction once made a habit. Sad thing is most kids take to it from babyhood these days.

  • Mandy

    November 29th, 2008 at 1:04 AM

    I lost my job recently and was lucky to get a next one of the same nature. I sat holed in my apartment not answering my calls, watching tv, applying for new openings. I was terribly depressed for a week but luckily pulled myself out of the rut. TV was defntly the only thing i did for fun.

  • Bryant

    November 29th, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    Are you kidding me? On the weekends I live for Saturdays and Sundays filled with all of the ballgames on TV! That is what makes me happy.

  • Ally

    November 30th, 2008 at 7:32 AM

    I hear ya Bryant! Saturday ball games all day long are the best! But I do see that there are those who hide out and their only friend becomes the TV. I am sure this does nothing for them in the long run.

  • Gaile

    December 2nd, 2008 at 3:52 AM

    I sure do wish my husband would read this

  • ravi

    December 2nd, 2008 at 11:35 PM

    I’m a media professional who works in the film and television business. The study concluded seems plausible but after consideration I really had to wonder, ‘does watching more TV really lead to unhappiness.’ After all, I watch a lot of tv and I’m not unhappy. It’s easy to draw a correlation that too much of any thing is a bad thing, but to conclude that if you watch TV you probably are unhappy is too bold of an assertion to make of our media culture.

    The study analyzed “peoples’ level of happiness and then drew correlations with 10 activities, including going to church, visiting friends, reading newspapers and watching television.” Ask the timeless philosophical question, “what is happiness?” There are only four activities mentioned and again, how does one define a “level of happiness?” I don’t attend Church but I believe in God, does that make me unhappy? I visit friends often and even they often come over to laugh or cry over a great movie or even playing video games. We love the friendly competition and nobody ever walks away feeling depressed. There are many other “social activities” which could be associated with depression. Gambling is a huge social activity enjoyed in a world of live strangers and it appears more closely associated with unhappiness.

    When I think back on America’s history, so much of it is defined by culture, which today is identified by “what’s on TV.” Our society has increasingly grown to consume media and information in a multitude of ways via internet, movies, television, cell phones, faxes, blackberries, iphones, in-car devices. There’s a lot of content out there demanding our attention and it’s hard to “get away from it all.” But there’s a lot of quality programming out there as well and if audiences didn’t “tune in” it would be tuned out. It’s easy, as many people do, to say, “There’s nothing good on.” But it’s not true. As one grows up through the generations of TV episodes on air, you’ll often hear a person referring to a character or a show to explain something that is happening in their own life.

    “Oh, my father in law is just like Archie Bunker. He’s stuck in the Stone Age.”

    “You can’t just pop in anytime you want like Kramer!”

    And at once we understand and are taken back to that moment of Television time. These stories, I believe, continue to be a part of our makeup. I know many of these moments have defined and shaped my character and personality. It’s comforting to know that at the end of the hard day you can always share a laugh with your TV friends, which is even more enjoyable with friends and family. I want to continue to share and contribute to that universal human experience of sharing a laugh, sharing an emotion.

  • Kevin

    December 4th, 2008 at 4:26 PM

    But couldn’t we do a better job by incorporating a love of reading into our social fabric like we have with the TV?

  • Kendall

    December 27th, 2008 at 5:11 AM

    I am tempted to write a lot here. Instead, I’ll write only a little bit, so there’ll be one more succinct comment from a happy non-television watcher – making the “i work in the media and here’s my five paragraph argument that television is not the ultimate mind-control” person (above) look even more unconvincing :)

  • Kelly

    December 28th, 2008 at 12:19 PM

    the healthy people are always on the go and do not have time to sit in front of the tv. lonely people have more time.

  • Pink Gifts

    March 19th, 2009 at 6:35 PM

    Is there a way to locate someone locally to try this?

  • GoogleFreak

    April 15th, 2010 at 4:36 PM

    Tv sure can make one depressed. At least you won’t be that happy. Why? I have read watching too much tv can cause stress in the brain. Think about it all that intensive shows. Sex, violence and more.

    I used to be smart kid when I was younger, when I started watching tv my grades started to drop. As the years went by it got worse. I spent majority of my free time watching tv. Also watching too much tv can make one very hungry.

    I have unplugged my tv and I watch the odd movie or tv show, I have drastically cut back. I am happier now, I do strength training and I go bike riding. It is much more productive than watching tv that have very little benefit if any.

  • michael

    February 7th, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    I think TV and technology in general needs to go in a hole and burn!!!!;

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