happy people

What Happy People Don’t Do

Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes just like anger, disgust, or sadness. So I always had a difficult time when people asked about my life in general with “Are you happy?” I would think to myself, I’m happy sometimes, other times I’m sad or annoyed. However, after thinking about it I understand what it means. A happy person is someone who is content with the trajectory of their life. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect or they don’t wish for some parts of their life to be different. It means, in general, they wake up liking who they are and what their life produces.

Happy people spend a lot of time socializing, going to church and reading newspapers — but a study found that they don’t do a lot of this:

They don’t spend a lot of time watching television. That’s what unhappy people do.

Although people who describe themselves as happy enjoy watching television, it turns out to be the single activity they engage in less often than unhappy people, said John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and the author of the study, which appeared in the journal Social Indicators Research.

While most large studies on happiness have focused on the demographic characteristics of happy people — factors like age and marital status — Dr. Robinson and his colleagues tried to identify what activities happy people engage in. The study relied primarily on the responses of 45,000 Americans collected over 35 years by the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, and on published “time diary” studies recording the daily activities of participants.

“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 happier,” Dr. Robinson said. “TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less.”

But the researchers could not tell whether unhappy people watch more television or whether being glued to the set is what makes people unhappy. “I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy,” Dr. Robinson said.

Still, he said, the data show that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run. Perhaps it is time to turn off the TV so we can live more of our own story. [Tweet This]

Sound Off

What do you like to do when you aren't watching TV?

  • RyDaddy

    I’d say its more likely that being unhappy leads to more watching of TV, not the other way around.

    TV watching is a very passive, escapism activity…exactly what you do if you don’t like your own life. You watch someone else pretend to live their life that is better than your life.

    • BJ_Foster

      You make a good point, but I would argue that if that is the case there is probably a cyclical effect. Escaping to the TV leads to continued discontent and the result is more escaping and the cycle of discontent continues on.

      • RyDaddy

        True that…a bad positive-feedback loop!

  • Gary Abernathy

    This is broad subject (tv) that has become even broader with advanced technology. When I was brought up (70’s/80’s) we started with 3 networks and PBS, and by the time I graduated high school, my family had cable and dozens of options. It felt like a miracle. Critics called it all “The Boob Tube.” That was too easy a write off, just as today it’s too easy to say technology is ruining people. The fact is, it’s what you watch, and how you either enhance your life or hurt it, that matters. I can guarantee if you’re watching cable news (of any brand) too much, you’re not only unhappy, but you’re angrily unhappy, because that’s what keeps you coming back. That’s the emotion they stoke. But there exists ample content of all sorts that educates, inspires, affirms and enlightens. All those things generally lead to happy places. Happiness alone is not a life goal. It’s part of a balance that also includes many other necessary emotions. I’m happy when I’m being super serious, like writing this right now, but I’m also happy when I’m vegging with my wife watching some silly escapist movie on Hallmark with her. Life is balance. Tech can greatly enhance that balance. It requires responsibility of content choice, and limited hours of your day. Because what REALLY brings forth happiness? Is free, always present, and waiting for us to explore – created nature. And that’s where I like being the most. In fact while in SF last week sitting at Pier 39 with my daughters watching the Sea Lions do their thing, I made the comment – “This is the best show on television.” And I wasn’t kidding 🙂

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