Unhappy people watch more TV, study finds

Happy people spend more free hours socializing, reading and participating in religious activities, while unhappy people watch 30 percent more television, according to new research on American life.

In a study that is among the first to compare daily free-time activities with perceptions of personal contentment, researchers found that television hours were elevated for people who described themselves as “not too happy.” On average, the down-and-out reported an extra 5.6 hours of tube time a week, compared with their happiest counterparts.

The research does not mean that television causes unhappiness, its authors said, but rather that there is a link that is not yet understood.

“It could be that watching television makes you unhappy, but there is also the question of whether people who are unhappy turn to television as a way to ward off their unhappiness,” said University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson, the study’s lead author.

The study, published in the December issue of the journal Social Indicators Research, is based on the General Social Survey, with public opinion data from nearly 40,000 people ages 18 to 64, as well as time-use diaries that detail how people spend their days.

Robinson and his co-author, sociologist Steven Martin, concluded that people enjoyed what they watched the previous evening but that those who watched television the longest did not feel as happy about their lives. “We were getting two different signals: In the short term, people could be happy doing it, but in the long term, that could lead to something more negative,” Robinson said.

This made sense to Michelle Griggs, 33, of Woodbridge, Va., who watches “House” and “The Mentalist” with her husband, Aaron, but she sees the limits of television, too. “If you spend all of your time watching TV and not living your life, you’re not going to be too happy,” she said. “You’re watching other people’s lives.”

In all, however, the study found a happy majority. “Not too happy” people accounted for 11 percent of the total. Fifty-five percent were “somewhat happy,” and 33 percent were “very happy.”

Whether this upbeat outlook will hold steady during the economic meltdown is unclear. Television viewing goes up when work hours go down. Whether this produces additional unhappiness “is the $64 question,” Robinson said.

For Juliette Wafo, 30, television has offered a diversion from difficulty. She is newly arrived in the United States, in a tough life transition. “If you watch a good sitcom,” she said, “it can increase happiness. It can make you escape from the real world. You can laugh.”

Researchers found that with other free-time activities — socializing with relatives and friends, religious services, and sex, for example — happy people put in more hours. Television stood out because unhappy people gave it more time.

Researchers say television hours have long amounted to “the 800-pound gorilla” when it comes to free time. On average, people have 35 to 40 hours a week of discretionary time and spend about 21 hours near the tube.

The study found that the happiest people estimated they tuned in to television 18.9 hours a week. For the least happy, it was nearly 25 hours a week. The study controlled for differences in education, income, age, race, sex and marital status.

Apart from its findings on television, the study showed that when people who completed time-use diaries were asked to rate activities from the previous day, sex came out on top.

It was followed by playing sports, and playing and reading with children. The list continued with religious activities, sleep, meals out and socializing. Television was rated 12th — although well ahead of grocery shopping, work, child care and housework.

Talk to us

More in Local News

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Craig Hess (Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office)
Sultan’s new police chief has 22 years in law enforcement

Craig Hess was sworn in Sep. 14. The Long Island-born cop was a first-responder on 9/11. He also served as Gold Bar police chief.

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Woman killed in crash on Highway 99 in Lynnwood

Police closed off Highway 99 between 188th Street SW and 196th Street SW while they investigated.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Most Read