A new study by the University of Maryland has shown that people who watch a lot of TV are more unhappy than people who do other activities, reports the NY Times.
Hmmm, I thought. I have 62 season passes on my TiVo. I have a shit-ton of TV shows on DVD. I once got in a knock down drag out with an ex because she thought all the televisions should all be "hidden" in armoires. And, of course, I'm a cynical, miserable bastard. Is there cause and effect?
In my two score and change years of existence, I can recall only two or three periods of extended "happiness." One of those was during the salad days of college, where I watched far less tube than at probably another point in my life. Conversely, another was a few years ago, when, for various circumstances, just about 95% of my time was spent watching TV with someone who shared my passions for programming (among other things). I was also, for me, blissfully happy as a child (though one consumed with neuroses and cynicism), and the family gathered around the ginormous faux-wood Zenith with personalized baskets of popcorn every evening. So can we draw any conclusions there? Probably not.
In the article, they don't specify all of the "8 to 10 activities that happy people engage in," other than "visiting others" and "going to church." So let's see how some potential non-television activities stack up against the almighty tube.
Pros: Can talk to characters who talk back. Might serve you beer or chicken wings (though you can now order pizza from your TiVo). Could say something interesting, or something flattering ("hey man, great blog post last week!).
Cons: Mute button. Don't have to watch programs with kids if you don't want to. And aren't Gaius Baltar, Dexter Morgan and Greg House more interesting than the people you know in real life?
Going to Church
Pros: Ummm....hmmmmm. Not sure I can think of any, though the Southern Baptist girls at my high school did fuck like bunnies, and you usually had to punch the clock at church to get a chance to hit that. And if all the hokum turns out to be true, I seem to recall something about an eternal soul.
Cons: Even with a premium package that shows every channel known to DirecTV, NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB Extra Innings, ESPN GamePlan, and including top of the line televisions in every room in the house, it still won't cost you 10% of what make. Heroes has more believable plotlines. Television doesn't hate the gays or science.
Pros: Just as many accessories to purchase. Competitive; there's a clear winner and loser, and I was usually the former. Pebble Beach, and the Inn at Spanish Bay, is much nicer than my (current) living room. People don't look at you as funny when you wear a Masters polo as they do when you wear a Sunnydale High t-shirt. Hard to gamble on Pushing Daisies.
Cons: I can get pissed off and shatter a 7 iron and it only costs me a couple of hundred bucks; if Carly gets voted off American Idol or Roslin turns out to be a Cylon, I can throw my shoe into the television screen and it's much more expensive. No DVRing tee times; I can watch when I want to. Inept programs in front of what I'm watching won't slow me down to the point of a nervous breakdown. Easy to delete a bad show, whereas leaving a round in the middle of a 10 over par on the front nine atrocity requires much more logistical effort.
Neutral: You can drink and smoke doing both. You can wear shorts doing both. Rain (if you have satellite) can affect both.
Pros: Duh. It's fucking, y'all. Mad Men won't lie and tell me that I'm just as fabulous and perfect as it is. 30 Rock never asked to be tied to the bedposts. Watching Burn Notice in the hot tub is still pretty much watching Burn Notice. There are millions of other people watching Doctor Who at the same time I am. Big Bang Theory, while it sounds like it would be similar, just really isn't.
Cons: A really satisfying season of Lost lasts 16 hours. You can have Joan Holloway one night, Liz Lemon the next, Juliet Burke the next and Sarah Connor another. DirecTV only costs a hundred bucks or so a month. There's no chance of Rescue Me giving birth.
Pros: My TiVo is pretty fantastic, but it never brings me a filet mignon or a bottle of red. Much easier for other people to deep fry things, and the dish just doesn't work that way. Sometimes an episode of The Office doesn't quite fill me up.
Cons: TV is much cheaper per serving. No reservations required. No waiting, unless it's for the next season for BSG or Lost to finally fucking come back. Law & Order doesn't make me gain ten pounds. Very difficult to find a place that serves lobster where you can wear sweatpants. There's always a smoking section.
Having a Relationship
Pros: See "Having Sex" above. Someone might encourage you to watch a good television show you never watched, like SportsNight or Gilmore Girls. Hard to play Trivial Pursuit with fictional characters. Look like less of a loser at a dinner party or wedding with a date, versus sitting in corner watching Chuck on your iPod.
Cons: Jack Bauer and I never say "what do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do? It doesn't matter, what do you want to do?" (And if I did, he might toture me with a lamp). My TiVo doesn't solicit anyone else to program it. At least when Firefly was canceled and left me with a sucking chest wound, there was an explanation (and a DVD and a movie). No matter what time of time of day it is, or what kind of mood you're in, there's always something on TV. I've never had to go shoe shopping with Eureka, nor had The Closer ask me to buy tampons.
So, after careful analysis, where does that leave us? I think, all things considered, it's either close to a draw, or more likely, coming down in favor of television. It's cheaper, offers greater diversity of stimuli, screws up fewer other people's lives, provides more dependability and is always just a button or two away. Plus, I can be miserable in just about any fashion, so television offers the path of least resistance, no? And you never have to turn the TV off, do you?