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May 14, 2008


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Four years ago I stopped watching TV, saved $600+ each year in satelite bills, lost 8 pounds, and found I had time to read 5 books most weeks.
Wouldn't go back to it...

We turned off the TV last year, and one of the best benefits is the peacefulness of a whole lot less advertising in my life. Even with limited TV watching and Tivo, we'd still see ads; they didn't just disappear. It seems a big part of being happy is being happy with what you have. When you're constantly bombarded with advertisements suggesting you'll be happier if you have X, Y and Z, I think the message still affects even the wisest of us.

I love hockey too much to give up TV, but we have cut down on the "must see" shows we watch on a weekly basis. Most of the time we are watching on Tivo as well to cut down on the ad time.

Ann - I assume you're getting those books at the library so as not to offset your $600 satellite bill savings? Otherwise 5 books a week would cost significantly more than that.

Wait, what exactly is the difference between watching TV and reading books or listening to music based on this "neutral downtime" argument? Because they all seem to fit that bill. In fact, they call the leisure activities '"...things you choose to do, rather than have to do,"' which watching a television program certainly would fall under. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge reader, but I don't see how a quality TV show is less mentally engaging than a lurid novel. Also, where do they put the line? Are books on tape neutral downtime or a leisure activity? Though the internet isn't mentioned, is there a difference in watching TV online versus on the television in their study, or perhaps a difference between reading an e-book online versus reading a paper book?

I can see the advertisements being an issue, but then why not place the blame on them? After all, you can watch TV shows without commercials--you just need to rent the season DVDs from Netflix or borrow them from your library. Yes, you have to wait to see the current shows, but with the multitudes of TV shows that have been put out on DVDs it is easy to find a replacement.

Watching TV is passive, no matter how "engaging" the programming may be.

Reading, at least the way it should be done, by re-reading passages several times to fully process the information, is an active endeavor. It involves different parts of the brain. There has been lots of research in this area. Just google reading, brain, TV etc and you'll find it.

One does not have to re-read passages of a Steve Berry, Nora Roberts, or Terry Brooks novel to fully process the information. And again, books on tape, listening to music versus both the visual and auditory stimulation of a TV program? Going to see a play....I'm just saying I'd really like to see the process by which they selected activities that fall into the two categories, as there seems to me to be a gray area between the two.

I think people can choose to challenge themselves in what they spend their free time doing or they can choose to not, no matter what medium the information arrives to them. And I wonder whether they placed a rating on the type of information taken in in both the "watching tv" and "reading books" category, as both certainly contain both the challenging and the mundane. Regardless, it is the viewer/reader who must choose whether to contemplate what knowledge or stimuli they have received or to ignore it. Perhaps TV watching, the way it "should be done," would reap the same benefits as reading can. Watching a scene over again, contemplating the dialogue and the actions of the actors.

I don't deny that some activities are going to have a higher initial level of intellectual stimulation than others, but I'm not convinced that it is this level of study and contemplation that led to the placement of activities into certain categories. As it was a survey, I doubt that they were able to effectively parse out such information. If they really wanted to make it a good study, they should do a follow-up paper with the same respondents and ask them to cut down on their television watching, replacing it with the leisure activity of their choice and SEE whether they report an increase in their happiness levels (we'll ignore the self-reporting bias for now).

Heck, the article itself says that over the time period of four decades under which this drop is being considered, there was an increase in the amount of work time that "was more than offset by a drop in time devoted to mundane chores." However, those mundane chores such as scrubbing the floors or hand-washing the dishes most likely afforded exercise, which the article itself calls more mentally engaging than TV.

Of course, we don't have their comparison of these mundane chores against the rest of the leisure or the neural downtime activities, but based on the information given they could very well be putting too much weight on the TV correlation because the decrease in the chores wasn't accounted for in their regression model. When there is a missing variable its weight gets inappropriately distributed to the included variables in the regression model, as "ceteris paribus" only holds constant the variables that are included in the model. It is called an omitted variable bias. And trust me, with three economists, a psychologist and a psychiatrist they are using regression analysis to analyze their survey results.


Mundane chores, although some may afford "exercise" (I'll use that loosely), usually don't provide enjoyment. I don't tend to enjoy hand-washing my dishes... but that just might be me ;)

I think what they mean by exercise, in this study, is things such as jogging, walking, throwing the frisbee, bicyling, ect... things like that. As an aside, exercise that is of the aerobic nature releases endorphins in your brain (if done intensely enough)... which makes you feel better. This has been studied as well.

I think the point is that there are some activities which are enjoyable and thus usually provide happiness, and there are those that, although they may be engaging activities, don't. And the other point is that if we choose to do these types of activities, we are likely to be more happy and not as stressed.

Your example of going to a play is an interesting one. My take is that it would fall under the category of engaging leisure activities. Because you are physically going to a place where social interaction is bound to take place (even if minimally), and you are using your brain much in the same way it would be used to read a book. I will concede however that your "reading a book vs. watching TV" comment does make a good point. Perhaps these need to be better defined.

I think the big picture is, basically, people would be better off choosing activities which are engaging AND enjoyable (as I mentioned above).

I completely agree that people should ideally choose activities which are both engaging and enjoyable. It doesn't necessarily exclude TV as a leisure option, though. I just find the implication that TV shouldn't be watched incredibly frustrating--there IS quality programming. It'd be like saying that people shouldn't read magazines because the majority of what is sold at the supermarket is the frivolous celebrity gossip magazine when people could be reading The Economist.

I'm guessing that a study in which they had people turn off the TV and fill the time with the alternate activity of their choice WOULD show an increase in the reported happiness levels of the group; this doesn't mean that a study in which certain programming was restricted wouldn't yield the same result.

Even so, labeling these programs as "a waste of time that won't make you happy" doesn't really change anything--people choose their leisure activities based on what they most want to do, whether it leads to them reporting themselves happier or not. The lesson that SHOULD be taken away from this is that you should only be doing things that makes you happy--whatever you decide that is [and, of course, that which is not taboo within the society in which you live].

Ok, I will concede that point :)

Only because I agree... there is some TV programming that is actually not a complete waste of time and that I engage with much better than even reading a book sometimes. But in my own experiences, I must say that I watch TV very infrequently... and I never seem to miss it when I'm not watching. I have a very short list of channels that I browse when I do. Anyway, I also think that there's only a very small amount of good, quality programming out there... relative to everything that's available.

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