Get selective about the TV

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good – this time, is watching too much TV actually making you unhappy?


Get selective about the TV

The project

Watching television is one of the UK’s most popular pastimes, but watching too much can drag you down.

The aim

The average amount of time a British person watches television has been steadily increasing, but experts suggest that watching less (or watching it more mindfully), may make us happier.

The theory

Recent research shows that the average Brit watches around four hours of TV each day – a collective total of 455 million hours per year.

Experts have suggested that watching programmes for hours on end can actually make you unhappy.

A 2006 University of Maryland study revealed a list of things happy people had in common, which included going to church, having sex, reading newspapers and socialising. But according to lead author on the study, Dr John Robinson, ‘TV was the one activity that showed a negative relationship. Unhappy people did it more, and happy people did it less.’ He and his colleagues found that the happiest people watched 18.9 hours a week compared to the least happy, who racked up around 25 hours a week – 30 per cent more than the happiest.

In a 2007 study, Frey et al concluded: ‘We find that heavy TV viewers report lower satisfaction with their financial situation, place more importance on affluence, feel less safe, trust others less and think that they are involved less in social activities than their peers.’

Try it out

  • Watch the ‘right’ TV. Comedy is the genre that gives viewers the most joy, followed by music programmes and even children’s programmes
  • Impose impediments. Frey et al found people who watch TV the least (and are the happiest) tend to impose rules to restrict their viewing, such as having uncomfortable chairs in front of the TV
  • Watch recorded TV. Skip through adverts and watch a show according to your time and mood, rather than being dictated to by programmers
  • Watch with someone. Discuss a programme and use it as a focal point for interaction rather than sitting there in your own separate worlds
  • Venture into pastures new. Find a channel or a programme you’ve never thought of watching before. The ‘right’ viewing can broaden your world
  • Watch mindfully. Choose to watch TV rather than plonking yourself in front of it, and allowing it to carry you from one programme to the next

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at


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