How to Tell If You're Watching too Much TV, and What to Do About It

What's the difference between losing yourself in a TV addiction and a good book?
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What's the difference between losing yourself in a TV addiction and a good book?

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Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

Last night I forced to make a choice, go to bed—so that I can wake up early for work—or watch just one more episode of Game of Thrones. Even as I yanked myself off the couch, I had to fight the strong urge to turn around and click next.

Since the advent of Netflix and DVR, TV-watching marathons have become the new way to watch TV. It's easier than ever to dive into a new show, and binge watch until caught up to the current season. The old-school way of patiently waiting a week until the next episode are a thing of the past. Is this new trend a healthy one?

We know TV provides a powerful means of escape. We insert ourselves into the latest scandal, tantalizing secret, or heroic triumph of each show. We live vicariously through each character in the story. As media writer Kat Ascharya insightfully pointed out:

"Emotions provoked by stories, whether through books or on TV, create protracted emotional states, inner experiences that viewers want to sustain, causing them to hit next and play the next episode to find out what happens next."

Sure, we all need an escape sometime. But, are our lives truly so awful that we need to spend hours lost in fictitious affairs? To invest our emotions and time into people we don't know and places we'll probably never visit?

We’ve all had that book that we couldn’t put down, though, so what makes this different? There’s something about TV that manipulates our emotions in a way that books do not. Music and visual cues are powerful. With books, we create images in our minds, while in TV shows, images are fed to us, crafted to produce certain emotions.

The issue is not if we should watch TV, but if we are watching an amount of TV that is healthy for us. We often live as if we possess endless amounts of time, as if we can regain lost hours after we find out a certain plot twist. We'll plan the week's meals after this episode, or we’ll call a friend after we're all caught up with the show. And, to some extent, the only person who can answer the question of how much is too much is you. With some honest reflection, only you know if your viewing habits are taking you away from living a full life.

We don’t need to ban TV. But we can ask ourselves a question: What could we accomplish if we intentionally open up more space in our lives to be creative? If we, after a show, pause to think through the feelings prompted by the story, and then go and enjoy an activity totally disconnected from a screen. Go for a walk. Practice twenty minutes of yoga. Do the dishes, or that other chore you've been putting off. Pull out a piece of paper and write down what you feel. Let your creative mind re-engage you and pull you out of your couch-comfort zone.

We can also seek out new methods of escape. It's good to forget about ourselves for a little while, and while TV accomplishes that, so does focusing on someone else. How about volunteering at the local pet shelter or nursing home? We can also cultivate old hobbies, or even discover a new one.
After all, our challenge in life isn’t just to find the stories worth watching but live the ones worth living.

(Photo by Shannon Lee Miller)