“Predictors of unhappiness” are certain observable conditions, which tend to indicate decreased happiness.

“Predictors of unhappiness” are certain observable conditions, which tend to indicate decreased happiness.
For example, financial worry is a very high predictor of unhappiness. Others are “being single,” and poor physical health. As you can probably guess from the title of this column series, a fourth predictor of unhappiness — roughly equivalent to financial insecurity — is the reliance on television as a primary form of entertainment.
To clarify further, this does not mean that everyone who watches television is likely to be unhappy. The studies were specific: they did not focus on all television viewers, but only on those who indicated that television was their primary means of entertainment. This group was more reliant on television for their stimulation than all other activities, such as entertaining friends, cooking, going out to some public place, or reading. In a word, this group was TV-dependent. TV-dependence, and not just TV, is the subject here.
Why is TV-dependence such a powerful indicator of unhappiness? The answers are the same as with any other dependence. In psychology, two primary elements of addiction are tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance means that ever-larger quantities of the substance are needed in order to achieve the desired effect. Withdrawal means that ever-increasing discomfort is experienced when use of the substance is ceased. This creates a vicious cycle which destroys both the enjoyment of the substance and the enjoyment of life in general, and we call this cycle addiction.
No one knows better than the television industry that viewers are building an impressive tolerance to the medium. Greater visual stimulation is constantly required; as soon as the viewer becomes accustomed to each new increase in stimulation, it must be increased again to achieve the “desired effect.” One result is that attention spans are growing shorter all the time as the desired effect is harder to reach. This is the tolerance part.
Withdrawal is observed when study participants have been asked to give up the stimulant.
TV deprivation, in those who have built up a great tolerance, has been shown to cause irritation, anxiety, boredom and even depression.
This all ends in a case of clinical dependence, which can be clearly seen from a 1977 study, which could only find 5 out of 120 families who were willing to abstain from television for a month in return for $500. Consider that along with the fact that viewers generally rank television as less satisfying than just about any other leisure activity (it is about equal to washing dishes).
Isn’t that a bit crazy? A $500 bribe was offered, and it was still insufficient to get families to give up television—the same activity that is statistically less satisfying than scrubbing silverware. When a major bribe is insufficient to get someone to forgo an activity that they don’t really find very enjoyable in the first place, then it is time to ask what degree of dependence has been formed in regard to this inertia-fostering activity.
Readers Digest has compiled a nice list of 17 Ways to Beat Your Television Addiction.
Number 1 is “Give your extra TVs to charity.” I’m not sure how I feel about this one. It sounds sort of like telling the alcoholic to kick his problem by giving his extra booze to the homeless guy down the street. Even so, if you are feeling charitable and are tired of losing two months out of every year to the Kardashians, then donate away — you can even write it off on your taxes.
I liked Number 4 on their list much better: “Throw away your remote controls.” Try it—I can tell you from experience that this will deal a serious blow to your TV-time. I haven’t had a remote for a couple years now, not at all because I took some moral high ground and threw it away, but because I lost the thing, and my procrastination apparently knows no bounds. Lacking a remote control, I am certain I have avoided many hours of “vegging-out”, if for no other reason than that it wasn’t worth walking to the TV to manipulate it manually. The beauty of this method is that it doesn’t even require hard work. As I found out, the lazier you are, the quicker you will drop the TV habit.
In the end, there are a million ways to decrease your viewing if you really want to try. Ever notice how the term “Family Room” is now equivalent to “TV Room” in contemporary language? Change that. Move the TV to an inconvenient spot, or simply move the furniture so that the central focus of the room is not the television. Arrange things in such a way that the room could once again logically be called a “Family Room” — arrange it in a circle. Or cover the TV with something. Or create one-hour sections of time during which TV is forbidden (if you use TV for background, this will profoundly throw off your routine, in a good way).
Creativity goes a long way here … and guess what? Reduced viewing of television has been shown to increase creativity! So go for it, reclaim your leisure time. And to all those who are wondering how long this column is going to talk about television: don’t worry, there will only be one more installment in this series, and I will do my best to make it as painless as possible. Tune in next week for the concluding section of “Smash your TV.”

The opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the The McPherson Sentinel or GateHouse Media. If you have any related questions or suggestions that you would like to see explored here, simply email me at daniel.schwindt@gmail.com.