Does reading the news make you unhappy — without you even realizing it?
Could news make you unhappy? The news is always extreme stories about violence, sex, tragedy — and always has been. There’s a good article and some recent research that gives us more insight.
So how can news make you unhappy?
News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads. So terrorism is over-rated. Chronic stress is under-rated. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is under-rated. Astronauts are over-rated. Nurses are under-rated.
We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong.
Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new.
It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that “make sense” – even if they don’t correspond to reality.
What does research say about news and happiness?
Research has shown that TV news throws off our ability to be accurate judges of life’s risks and rewards:
Psychologists have found that people who watch less TV are actually more accurate judges of life’s risks and rewards than those who subject themselves to the tales of crime, tragedy, and death that appear night after night on the ten o’clock news. That’s because these people are less likely to see sensationalized or one-sided sources of information, and thus see reality more clearly.
And studies have also concluded that the news can make depression worse:
This study examines television viewing motives and psychological outcomes of television news viewing by persons in depressive moods. Subjects were measured for depression, motives for television use, and psychological outcomes of viewing TV newscasts. Results suggest that, in general, television viewing can serve as a means of escape from depressive moods, although viewing of news programming may exacerbate such moods.
From “Television viewing and depression: No news is good news” from Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Volume 38, Issue 1, 1994
And what news bothers us the most? Might be politics:
People appear to dislike politics and politicians so much that prompting them to think about them has a very large downward effect on their assessment of their own lives. The effect of asking the political questions on well-being is only a little less than the effect of someone becoming unemployed, so that to get the same effect on average well-being, three-quarters of the population would have to lose their jobs.
What to do?
Try a news fast. Set a period of time, like a week, and don’t read or watch the news. See what happens.
I think you’ll be surprised how little going without it genuinely impacts your life. And you might end up happier.
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