John P. Robinson and Steven Martin have shown that people who read and/or socialize are happier than people who watch TV:
“TV doesn’t really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does,” says University of Maryland sociologist John P. Robinson, the study co-author and a pioneer in time use studies. “It’s more passive and may provide escape - especially when the news is as depressing as the economy itself. The data suggest to us that the TV habit may offer short-run pleasure at the expense of long-term malaise.”
This isn’t news. In fact, this study is a few years old. The methods used carefully control for time and causal effects. It’s still not possible to say that TV viewing causes unhappiness — but it’s very suggestive. Of further interest is that people who watch TV are happy with what they watch — so while they are unhappy overall, they say they like the shows they watch. This suggests that TV might be a symptom of unhappiness rather than its cause — or that viewers are not aware that watching TV isn’t satisfying their needs, in part because most of us are unaware of what our needs really are.
Readers, on the other hand are happy. I was particularly pleased to note that it doesn’t matter what you read — newspapers, magazines, light books, serious novels, non-fiction. Now I have an excuse for reading all those zombie novels!