Life is stressful. You work hard all day, and sometimes all you want to do is come home, plop down on the couch, and hang out with your friends. You know the ones? Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Ross, Phoebe, and Joey. At the end of a long day, these people—that is, the characters on the TV shows we mindlessly consume for hours at a time—are often the only ones we have energy for.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a Time Use Survey of Americans and found that watching TV is the leisure activity that occupies the majority of our time. In fact, Americans ages 15 and older spend an average of 2.8 hours per day in front of the tube. That adds up to about 42.5 days spent watching TV each year.
I joined Netflix right after graduating from college three years ago. I went to work during the day and watched TV through the night. Recently, I decided that enough was enough. I ended up accomplishing more in one month than I had in three years. So if you’re thinking you need to cut down on your TV habit—you know, maybe trading Friends for some face time with your friends—here are five reasons to help you take the leap.
01. Getting off the couch is good for your health.
Health and well-being reports estimate that every hour of television consumed by an adult over the age of 25 stands to reduce his or her life span by twenty-two minutes. That seems pretty extreme, but when you consider the detrimental effects of sitting on your health, it makes some sense. For most people, watching TV is a very passive, sedentary activity; therefore, it doesn’t engage your body in a healthful way. CNN reports that extra time in front of the TV screen can increase your chances of type 2 diabetes and/or heart disease by about 20 percent. So get up and move!
02. Get more done.
Television shows you everything you want—your desires, hopes, and dreams. But you can’t reach through the screen and touch these things—they are cheap thrills. Even if you’re a biologist watching Planet Earth or an aspiring writer watching 30 Rock, you’re better off working than watching the fruits of someone else’s labor. Yes, it is relaxing after a long day to kick back and have quality entertainment beamed straight into your brain. But happiness and satisfaction require long-term efforts on our part.
Television puts you into an episode-after-episode/week-after-week mindset that can steal productive years away from you. Just think: What could you do with an extra hour in your day? Even an extra thirty minutes? If you always tell yourself you want to learn how to code/write better/cook dinner instead of ordering out, try cutting out your nightly TV fix. If you want to get a degree, you should be ready to burn the midnight oil to complete assignments; if you want to become a professional musician, practice and study of technique need to be your first priorities. Time is precious, so get some of it back.
03. You’ll save money.
It’s no secret that we live in a materialistic country. In a paper published by the journal Buddhist-Christian Studies, researcher Stephanie Kaza found that “in the United States, the number of shopping malls (close to 35,000) eclipsed the number of high schools in 1987.” Even disregarding commercials, television makes you crave things that are shiny and new. Characters are always wearing nice outfits and using the newest “hot items.” They might frequent bars without vulgar graffiti on the bathroom stalls or restaurants with expensive dishware. But are they woefully checking their bank accounts afterward like you would be? No.
Without TV, I found that my need for stuff was much less. I was happier with a life less governed by designers and advertising agencies. Who you are is not about what you have. Seek out the freedom to be proud of your Honda from the nineties and your thrift-store sneakers.
04. Do it for the peace of mind.
Sometimes, there’s nothing good to watch. But you kick off your shoes and stare at the box anyway. Why? Because you want a familiar voice and story to help you forget about your day. For real, do you watch Undercover Boss for the unique and intelligent content? Or are you keeping yourself from thinking about everything that needs real attention or tough consideration—your relationships, health, career, and more?
Consider spending some of the time you would normally use watching television to engage in more meaningful introspection. Reflection and meditation, whether at a botanical garden or sitting on your kitchen floor, reduce anxiety and release stress, according to The American Journal of Psychiatry. In the beginning, it is difficult to listen to your most painful thoughts. But if your end game is peace and prosperity, try turning off the tube and listening to your heart instead.
05. Do it because you have a thirst for knowledge.
Yes, Archer may have many references to the history of Western civilization. But it will never be a substitution for reading a good book on the topic.
Comparing reading to television is like comparing a swimming pool to a plastic bucket. Reading and writing are the greatest inventions in human history. As Susan B. Neuman explained in The Displacement Effect: Assessing the Relation Between Television Viewing and Reading Performance, reading helps you learn how to manipulate language, pay attention to detail, think in an abstract way, and form difficult conclusions.
OK, so you don’t have to go into I’m-canceling-Netflix-cold-turkey-and-taking-this-TV-to-Goodwill mode. But if you’re inspired to cut back a bit on your TV watching, try making plans to fill that downtime. Make plans before the weekend comes so that you don’t end up in bed all day. After work every day, decide what else you want to accomplish (organizing, exercising, cooking, reading, calling your parents, etc.). Then do what you can to make it happen.
Your television is still a lifesaver when you have to spend five hours baking bread, and there’s nobody to talk to. It can be a quick source of information when it comes down to breaking news and weather forecasts. There’s nothing wrong with being really invested in a show or two. But unless you have already accomplished all your goals in life, I would urge you to try to reduce your consumption. You don’t want to look back on the past decade only to realize that you’ve spent your free time watching every episode of Friends four times.