Too Much Television Is an Unhappy Habit

Happy people watch less TV, study shows.

December 12, 2008

More than two hours of TV a day could turn off your happiness.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—If you’re searching for happiness, you’re unlikely to find it by gazing into a TV screen, according to a study published in the journal Social Indicator Research.

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THE DETAILS: University of Maryland sociologists looked through 34 years of data pertaining to self-rated happiness and media use and found that the happiest people socialize with family and friends, read newspapers, and are active in religion. They also watch about an hour less of television a day than unhappy people. On the social end, the data found that the happiest people socialized with family members an average of 80 times a year, spending time with relatives about 15% more often than the unhappy group.

WHAT IT MEANS: The study did not determine whether miserable people flock to the TV, or if watching too much of it makes people unhappy. But considering that Americans watch an average of 142 hours of television a month—nearly 30% of our waking hours—most of us could do with some time away from the screen. And if that might make us happier, so much the better.

Keep this in mind when you’re tempted to sit through a second hour of Cooking Omelets with the Stars:

• Skipping TV is slimming. Try reducing your TV screen time to two hours or less a day—similar to those who experienced the most happiness in the study. In other studies, people who watched more than three to four hours of TV a day were nearly twice as likely to be obese as those who watched less. If there are children in your life, it’s even more important that television not become the default time-waster in your household: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting children’s TV, movie and video time to 1 to 2 hours per day; kids who watch more are more likely to be obese as adults. And a November 2008 study found that increased sexual content on TV raises the odds of teen pregnancy.

• Happy=healthy. Staying happy can have as powerful an impact on your physical health as avoiding cigarettes, according to Dutch social scientists. Analyzing 30 past studies, they found that happiness helps bolster the immune system, prevents healthy people from falling ill, and tacks on extra years of life as a result.