Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Why Aren't People Happy?

This WSJ article (Hat tip: Dan Collins) suggests that many people spend their time unwisely and that we watch too much TV:

Women, folks under age 65, those divorced or separated, lower-income earners and the less educated were likely to spend a bigger chunk of their day in an unpleasant state...

Instead, there's been a significant increase in the hours devoted to what the authors call "neutral downtime," which is mostly watching television. Women now spend 15% of their waking hours staring at the tube, while men devote 17%.

Watching TV may be low-stress and moderately enjoyable. But people aren't mentally engaged the way they are when they're, say, exercising or socializing.

"I wonder whether there are self-control problems when it comes to watching television," muses Prof. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University and another of the study's co-authors. "I wonder whether people would feel better about their lives if they spent their leisure time doing something that was more interactive and more engaging."

My guess is that many people are unhappy because those who watch a lot of TV have expectations of life that are too high--that is, the boob tube has them thinking they are supposed to be the next American Idol and instead, they are at a job they don't like or in a situation that is less than what they consider ideal. The life they think they should have vs. the life they are actually leading might lead to depression or at least a feeling of unhappiness. I have about three TV shows I watch lately, re-runs of Frasier, Drew Carey, and Mama's Family. None of the characters in these sit-coms is doing too well. My life, by comparison, looks great. I am happy.


Blogger Larry J said...

At the risk of blowing the cus-o-meter to pieces, here's a quote from the movie "Fight Club" that may explain it.

Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

Now, if they were gullible enough to actually believe they'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, I can see why they'd be pissed.

8:36 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

larry j --

They are. It's the entitlement mindset, but instead of being pissed off, people get pissy. Not quite the same. When they do get p-oed, it's never at themselves for being stupid, but at the movies and such they spend their time wishing were their lives.

I personally don't get A.I. or the others. They're so incredibly vapid.

9:07 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Mad William Flint said...

Seems pretty simple and to me. My enjoyment of life and general happiness is directly related to two things:

a) the amount of time I spend around other people in a social context, be that at a bar, out with a bunch of friends.

b) how much energy I'm spending creating/building things, be that bread baking, writing, developing software, etc.

There's simply no place in my life for television.

It's tough not to get evangelical about it, but I do what I can ;-)

9:23 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

Sure, watching extended amount of TV turns your brain to mush. But, perhaps we need to look at why people are choosing to watch so much TV. I think the reason runs much deeper than laziness. Another surprising statistic that came to light last week was a tidbit buried in this article that middle aged women were spending a great deal of time on the Internet and playing video games.

TV, Internet, Video Games, I don't see much of a difference. All of these activities require 2 things 1) The person is sedentary 2) These activities occur inside the home.

Looking at the other activities in the article these render a happy disposition:

The standout cluster was what the authors label "engaging leisure and spiritual activities," things like visiting friends, exercising, attending church, listening to music, fishing, reading a book, sitting in a cafe or going to a party.

With the exception of listening to music and reading a book, these happiness inducing activities occur outside the home.

I am going to stick my neck out here and say that the American population is starting to have a great distaste for leaving the comfort zone of their own home. As a culture, watching TV, surfing the net and video games are acceptable activities and easily achieved, roll out of bed and you are there.

Visiting friends, fishing, exercising, attending church, etc. requires some planning. You will be seen, talked about and judged by others. If you stay home you don't have that problem. You may not find happiness inside your house, but it is a personal safety zone. People now want to be left alone more than ever.

9:32 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger WillBDone said...

"Our Great War's a spiritual war"


Happiness is only real when shared...

9:40 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Olig wrote: "It's the entitlement mindset," Amen brother. And I had not thought of your point about people with entitlement problems getting pissy instead of pissed off. That is spot on and a very useful distinction!


10:03 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger William said...

TV robs people of an active lifestyle, unless they are doing something with the TV on in the background, like I often do with cable news. Sedentarianism leads to unhappiness

10:30 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Soccer Dad said...

If you really want to feel good about your life, watch reruns of Becker.

No it wasn't a great show, but in one episode a guy is about to commit suicide, but after talking to all the main characters, he decides that his life isn't so awful after all.

10:47 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger dienw said...

Ecclesiastes needs to be required reading in one's youth: "[B]ehold; all is vanity and vexation of spirit." not only read it but understand it.

Once, in the beginning of this nation, people understood happiness was a synonym for blessedness: a spiritual position before God; thus, the "pursuit of happiness" meant pursuit of a right relationship before God, not gather as many riches and toys as you can before you keel over. Jefferson wrote "pursuit of property"; the conference changed it: now the wise can pursue the former and fools the latter.

11:18 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

I think the last sentence says it all: "I wonder whether people would feel better about their lives if they spent their leisure time doing something that was more interactive and more engaging."

Well, that seems pretty obvious. Compare the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from finishing a project to that of finishing watching a movie.

I don't understand how people have so much time to watch tv. But I guess I wasted plenty of hours watching '60s sitcoms - I still have all the theme songs memorized so I guess I got something out of it.

11:21 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Entitlement, relative deprivation, sedentary lifesylte all contribute to unhappiness. It's not just the shows on TV but the advertisements.

The commercials tells us idiotic things like we'll have a spiritual expiernece looking through the roof of a car, can have perfect skin, perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect everything.

Activity, interaction and doing things for others, including your kids if you have any, brings happiness but not necessarily pleasure. Too many confuse the two.

I agree with every comment here, so far.

11:30 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger jay c said...

I have money problems, watch too much TV, vote libertarian (when I bother to vote at all), and I am divorced.

Yet, I'm happy! :-D

(Maybe because I'm divorced.)

11:54 AM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger jay c said...

OTOH, I also listen to music, hang out at coffee houses, sometimes at a bar, go to church, write, and exercise. OTGH, I did all that before my divorce, too. Still much happier now.

11:58 AM, April 02, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why aren't people happy?" The assumption behind that question is that people are supposed to be happy.

12:40 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Wayne said...

Hey, jay c -

When did you last read The Gripping Hand?

I read a lot, and I'm generally happy. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to instill a love of reading in my children.

1:08 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger ak said...

There are different kinds of people in the world. I'm an introvert. I find a lot of interaction with other people to be exhausting. I prefer being at home--pottering around, "projects" of any variety, cooking, gardening. I'm a full-time-plus editor and writer, a solitary activity I find enormously satisfying.

And in the evening, after I've exhausted my eyes on print all day, I enjoy watching TV, and so does my more extroverted husband. American Idol and Survivor are obviously a plot of the devil and/or a hostile foreign government. But there are other good shows. For example, I really enjoy 30 Rock. It's evidence that people have the same sense of humor I do and that no matter how demented someone's politics are, they can still be crazy-funny. I appreciate the show.

Anyway, my point is, not every homebody and regular TV watcher is deluded, sedentary, and living a life of quiet desperation.

It may be generally true that we're retreating into ourselves and losing our real "public forum." But that's happening in a lot of other ways that don't involve TV, video games, or staying at home. In fact, the deterioration of public behavior is probably one reason why more people do retreat. A lot of people I see driving, at bars, at theaters, even at more "refined" cultural events, seem to feel quite entitled themselves, and more than a little pissy. For someone of my disposition, that kind of behavior makes me much more unhappy than being home alone ever has.

1:59 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Larry J said...

One of the worst advertising campaigns IMO was the old beer commerical that say, "Oh yes, you can have it all." No, you can't. It simply isn't realistic to try to have it all. We have to make choices in our lives.

Ask a young child what he wants to be when he grows up and he'll likely say something like, "I want to be a doctor and a fireman and an astronaut and a movie star."

That's fine when you're six but the reality is that you have to make choices. These choices will do more to affect what you become in life than even external factors such as racism or sexism. Choosing a particular career - such as becoming a doctor - means having to give up most other career options. Becoming a doctor is a full time gig.

One facet of the entitlement mentality that I've observed is watching young couples who expect to start out with the same standard of living that it took their parents decades to achieve. For most young couples, they simply don't have the money to live like that and living beyond your means is a major source of unhappiness and struggle.

2:10 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger JasonMPA said...

It may also be that the cause-effect is the other way around, and that people who are depressed don't have the energy or motivation to go out of the house and do things, but rather cocoon themselves inside their homes and watch television.

2:19 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Serket said...

NJArtist - I've heard the founders originally wanted to say: life, liberty and property, but they thought the South would use it as an excuse to keep slavery.

3:10 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger LPF said...

"What? You don't like your job? There's a support group for that! It's called 'EVERYBODY'...and they meet at the bar!" --Drew Carey

3:29 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Mercurior said...

watching tv you dont have to do anything, but playing video games, that can stimulate the brain, puzzles, working out how to beat this monster or that.

sitting in front of the TV, you dont have to do anything it just sinks into your brain. reading, you actually are using your brain, same with video games.

i dont watch tv, its boring, and i have more fun on boards like this, and on others. and it gets my mind active.

3:44 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Zaplito said...

Two questions:
Do they watch TV because they are "unhappy"?

What type of brain waves does TV watching produce and what kind of brain chemistry does it facilitate?

When I'm tired and depressed I watch more TV. I'm already feeling lousy.

I know TV produces alpha wave states that are not sort of hypnotic in a way. I'll bet TV viewing doesn't produce a lot of dopamine either.

6:23 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger jay c said...

Wayne said...
Hey, jay c -

When did you last read The Gripping Hand?

I read a lot, and I'm generally happy. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to instill a love of reading in my children.

It's been years, but some things about those books really stuck with me.

I've had the same problem with my son. Computers, videogames, and television are a big part of the problem. When we were growing up, those things weren't such a big deal. I didn't know anyone with a computer until I was in high school, and then it was a C64. My brother had pong, and cable--when we had a tv at all--was only 13 channels. My son likes to read some, but he would much rather put his time into computer games.

I found two things that encourage him to read: 1) Something exciting and easy. He loved the Chronicles of Narnia, because there is a lot of action and not many big words. The Swiss Family Robinson was another one he liked. 2) Something that lets him participate and belong. His class in school is reading and discussing Ted Dekker's Circle Triology. It's a small class, so no one gets left out. At first he was required to read it, but as class discussions got underway, he was motivated to read ahead so he could add more to the discussion. And maybe brag a little too. He also read the World of Warcraft manual cover to cover in one day. Same thing there.

7:43 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Trust said...

It's amazing that someone can sit in a coffee shop, drinking a $5 coffee, talking about how deprived they are. Go out for a fancy dinner with friends and talk about how deprived they are. Drive a $20,000 car to a $250,000 4000 sq ft home, and sit in their new furniture in 72 degrees in front of a 50 inch TV feeling so deprived at what they see and don't have.

High expectations = high disappointment.

Reasonable expectations = gratitude when they are exceeded.

11:48 PM, April 02, 2008  
Blogger Jack Steiner said...

To me it comes down with learning how to be happy with what you have. I know plenty of people who are flush with cash, but quite unsatisfied with their lives.

12:50 AM, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Mercurior said...

Amen trust, I am a pessimist i always look on the worst (but hope for the best), if i am wrong i dont get upset, i am happy because reality exceeds expectation. if i am right i am happy because i am right.

I would say that sometimes computers can be a great boon, but i also read a lot when i am not online. its finding a good balance, i do watch some tv, not as much as i used to.

5:05 AM, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

I think some of the things we see on TV that will most surely going to depress many are those Home Design shows. They are mainly filmed in California where people like to claim they are flush with money. They take a small 2 bedroom cottage and then rip everything out to install granite counter tops, new cast iron tubs, and walk-in showers with multiple shower heads. Total cost of kitchen renovation? $80K. You can't spend less than $30K for that new bathroom. And then the super cute slightly punky couple looks into the camera and says, well, we absolutely need this stuff. Um, no you don't. If one is planning to spend that money on a kitchen perhaps they should just opt to eat out at an inexpensive healthy restaurants, over the course of the 2 years one would be more than ahead financially. No, you don't 'need' and granite countertops, but the countertop people would love you to think so.

8:05 AM, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Zaplito said...

Re Cham's comment and the slightly punky Calif couple on HGTV:

They probably had an ARM second mortgage to pay for it that is now coming due and they can't pay it and are contemplating bankruptcy and foreclosure. Or they assumed they could flip the house because the real estate bubble would never burst with still the same fate.

11:13 AM, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Peter V. Bella said...

I relate my happiness on the love of my family, the things I do and/or accomplish, the people I meet or am with, and the experience and knowledge that there will always be change- for good or bad- and you have to be adaptable.

As to TV, people seem to forget that, except for news or documentaries, TV is nothing more than mindless entertainment.

4:47 PM, April 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm unhappy, but it has nothing to do with TV.

* I have a career that I've long grown weary of, but suck at everything else so keep on going.

* I don't have enough to retire and lately I've been watching my retirement drop on a daily basis.

* I was raised in a religion that says if you don't get married and have kids you're a loser, so I did and discovered I hate teenagers and my kids are now teenagers.

* My wife treats me as a bank and sex as a chore. (My performance problems only add to my anxiety and unhappiness.)

6:22 PM, April 03, 2008  
Blogger Jack Steiner said...

Total cost of kitchen renovation? $80K. You can't spend less than $30K for that new bathroom.

I live in LA. Those numbers are way out of wack.

The average kitchen with granite or Caesarstone countertops and custom cabinetry costs around $25k or so.

A bathroom is closer to $15k.

Obviously there are examples of remodels that cost less and cost more.

1:51 AM, April 04, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@jason: Time for that mid-life crisis, man! There's a Harley out there with your name on it!

Be careful, though - my mid life cycle almost got me killed.

3:30 PM, April 04, 2008  
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