Cut back on television to improve your health and happiness

The vast majority of us walk around in a state that can be described as ‘wired but tired’. That is to say that we’re constantly alert, jittery and focused.  Most of us work with screens and monitors during the day. These screens work using an artificial light (similar to sunlight) which stimulates our mind; making us more alert. However, we were not designed to be in a state of alertness all of the time. Our body and mind need to be able to relax to ensure that we make a full recovery from our activities. If you are in a state of alert, relaxation is nigh on impossible. Also, over time our bodies have learned to associate alertness with impending danger.

Remember, we were originally hunter gatherers and if we saw something which could be a potential danger, we needed to become alert so that we could fight or take evasive action. Because of this, a state of alertness can put a great deal of stress on both body and mind. Eventually the constant alertness burns us out and it becomes very difficult to relax. So, our bodies suffer more stress and get less relaxation and recovery. A recipe for illness. Unfortunately, most people don’t recognise the problem and its cause so, they don’t take the opportunity to fix it and, matters only get worse.

You may be wondering what this has to do with watching television. Well, your television is one of these screens. If you flick on the television as soon as you go home, you are just going to continue in your heightened state of alertness. Your body and mind get no chance whatsoever to recover. As a result, burnout and stress are inevitable.

Health reasons to cut back on television

Most people watch television so that they can relax while being entertained. They think of watching television as one of the most relaxing activities they can enjoy but that is not actually true. Television requires you to be focused, every bit as focused as when you are doing your most important work. Add to this the extra alertness caused by the screen and you are in a heightened state of alertness. The moving images also trick your brain into thinking that something important is going so, even if you want to blank the television out, it is hard to do so and, you end up fixated on the screen.

When you watch the TV, the light that gets produced is very similar to the light created by the sun which fools your brain into thinking that it is still daytime. This makes you more alert again and at a time when your body should be preparing for sleep, you are experiencing the sensation of waking up.

All of this causes your body to produce dopamine, norepinephrine and cortisol. All hormones which are produced to help you cope with an imminent threat and danger. When you are facing an imminent threat or danger, your body uses up these hormones, so they don’t cause you any problems. However, when you are watching television, you are not facing an imminent threat so your body really has no use for these hormones and they stay in your body. And, they are not necessarily the best things to have in your body long-term e.g. excessive cortisol has been linked with a lowered immune system; not something you want to experience.

Happiness reasons to cut back on television

If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that most television is just mundane, formulaic rubbish. Most of the time that you spend watching television is just to kill time but what you are really doing is killing your happiness. Time spent watching normal television is time which you are not spending doing the things that add real pleasure to your life. Some of the simple pleasures which you miss out on because you are too busy watching television include:

  • The chance to get outdoors
  • Exercise
  • Reading a good book
  • Conversations with family and loved ones
  • Daydreaming and allowing your mind to wander
  • Just relaxing
  • Hobbies and interests

The things I have listed above don’t seem like major parts of your life but they are deceptively important. It is the little things you love, practiced daily, which bring real joy and fulfilment to your life. You don’t have to spend money, work hard or travel far to experience joy and fulfilment. You just need to cut back on the television and allow yourself the chance to experience the simple things.

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The answer

Don’t watch television for the sake of watching television. By all means, if there are shows which you really love, schedule some time for them. Just cut back on the television which you only watch to kill the time. For every show that you watch, ask yourself honestly, ‘how much pleasure does this bring to my life?’ You will find that most of the television that you watch brings little or no pleasure to your life so, cut it out.

Also approach the problem from the other point of view. If you find that you watch a lot of television ask yourself honestly, ‘what are the things I would like to be doing, which I don’t think I have the time for?’ Now, schedule these things, in addition to the important work and family commitments you already have. By scheduling these things first, you will see that you actually have very little time for television viewing and you will be forced to cut back on the television.