Life, Television, and the Pursuit of Unhappiness

I just read a report that was published by the University of Michigan, based on 30 years of research.  Finally, after 30 long years, the results are in.  And they are nothing short of shocking (yes, you should be detecting quite a bit of sarcasm there).  The verdict?  Well, the title of the report probably says it well enough, despite its apparent awkwardness:

Unhappy People Watch TV, Happy People Read/Socialize

No surprises there really.  I have seen this lived out time and time again.  It’s one of life’s vicious cycles.  People who don’t make a habit of investing in other people’s lives don’t really sense the joy and satisfaction that comes from a life that is lived in the service to others.  Yet, as Christians, that is exactly what we have been called to do.  And there are plenty of people who claim His name that have somehow not figured this out yet.  We are not to be a light under a basket, or worthless, tasteless salt that is only good for throwing out on the walkway to be trampled on.  That’s not the way we have been called to serve.

When we are actively engaged and participating–in our families, in our jobs, in our church, with our friends… basically, in the social spheres our Lord has placed us in–that is when we are most happy.  That is when we are most fulfilled.  We are both feeding and being fed the way God intended.  But when we withdraw, hole ourselves up, shut ourselves off, and hide ourselves away, turning only to a heartless, mindless box with images that look and sound like people in it… well, it is just another form of trading the truth for a lie, isn’t it?  There is no reward.  God is not glorified.  Lives are not touched.  Your own soul is not fed.

I know of NO ONE whose life has been changed for the better as a direct result of television.  I’m sure countless lives have been made worse as a result of over-indulgence, just as much as with alcohol.  Indeed, I think there are a lot of similarities between drugs and alcohol and the television.  And I think that there is also a lot of tendency (not that this always the case, but there is a tendency) for a person who is battling an addiction with one (i.e., drugs or alcohol), to have a secondary addiction to the other (television).  The two seem to dovetail together, and often spin their victims into a state of depression that typically results in further withdrawal, deeper spirals, a greater desire for escape, etc.  I have seen this happen to people around me that I care about, and they seem either totally blind to it, or even worse perhaps, completely apathetic.  This is one of the reasons that I detest that terrible box so much.  It is a substitute for a life.  It is like an evil doctor hypnotizing his army of zombies… keeping the dead from the resurrection, from the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

It really is sad to me that so many people are so anesthetized that they have to do a 30-year study and release a report for something that (to me at least) seems so painfully obvious.  It wasn’t that long ago that I posted another article here regarding another study linking teen pregnancy with television viewing, especially with all of the inappropriate and overly sexual content that is so prevalent.  As I said in that article, Sex and Violence are the two pillars of our culture; this is obvious because they are the two pillars that the altar-box in everybody’s LIVING room rests upon.  Oh, how many Americans (even Christians!) will talk about their high standards and their own love for family values, and decry their demise, yet tune into the very things that have destroyed them whenever they have the chance and soak up with their eyes the very things God hates!  What shall we say, that the spirit is weak, but the flesh is willing?  As Paul would say, may it never be!

I will end my rant lest I offend too many.  I know when I talk about this beloved device for the idol it is, it makes many uncomfortable.  Before I close my own thoughts and post the end of the article, let me just assure you that if you still love your television and all your favorite shows, I am not judging you and do not think less of you.  I do hope that it is not the most important thing in your life.  But my feelings of disdain and disgust are completely for the device and not for anyone under its power.  The same I say of alcohol and drugs.  I hate to see a life destroyed by any unhealthy addiction, but though I may hate substance of addiction, I will love the one affected by it.  I firmly believe that that is what we’re called to do because that is what my Savior did.  And I myself was once an addict, too.

Here is the close of this study.  I thought it was worth including…

Robinson and Martin found that the two sets of data largely coincided for most activities – with the exception of television.
From the General Social Survey, the researchers found that self-described very happy people were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read more newspapers. By contrast, unhappy people watched significantly more television in their spare time.

According to the study’s findings, unhappy people watch an estimated 20 percent more television than very happy people, after taking into account their education, income, age and marital status – as well as other demographic predictors of both viewing and happiness.


Data from time diaries told a somewhat different story. Responding in “real time,” much closer to daily events, survey respondents tended to rate television viewing more highly as a daily activity.

“What viewers seem to be saying is that while TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, ‘the shows I saw tonight were pretty good,’ ” Robinson says.

The data also suggested to Robinson and Martin that TV viewing is “easy.” Viewers don’t have to go anywhere, dress up, find company, plan ahead, expend energy, do any work or spend money in order to view.  Combine these advantages with the immediate gratification offered by television, and you can understand why Americans spend more than half their free time as TV viewers, the researchers say.

Unhappy people were also more likely to feel that they have unwanted extra time on their hands (51 percent) compared to very happy people (19 percent) and to feel rushed for time (35 percent vs. 23 percent). Having too much time and no clear way to fill it was the bigger burden of the two.


Martin likens the short, temporary pleasure of television to addiction: “Addictive activities produce momentary pleasure and long-term misery and regret,” he says. “People most vulnerable to addiction tend to be socially or personally disadvantaged. For this kind of person, TV can become a kind of opiate in a way. It’s habitual, and tuning in can be an easy way of tuning out.



Filed under Culture, Rant, Television

2 responses to “Life, Television, and the Pursuit of Unhappiness

  1. Simple Mann,

    This is powerful! Offend on! Your Christ-like compassion justifies any offense one may have. We used to call this “stepping on my toes.” And the facts are the facts.

    I hope many folks will read and heed this post. Including yours truly.

  2. P2

    Thank you, brother. I pray that the ears who need to hear it most would be open to the truth. It seems so often that those who most need the cure cling the tightest to their poison.

    I know you and I share similar views on television. I have to say, if Paul did not speak specifically about a “man” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, I would almost be inclined to think this passage refers to television itself:

    Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12)

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