When we settle down to watch TV, we are engaged, entertained and, if all goes right, happy. Among Americans—who watch an average of nearly three hours a day—watching television is the most common free-time activity. We simply love TV. But while television is a good servant, it’s a bad master. It can often swallow up huge amounts of time without giving much back in return. Here are eight tips to make your TV time a source of happiness instead of regret:
1. Watch TV with someone else
We enjoy all activities more when we’re with other people, and we tend to find things funnier, too. Use TV as an excuse to get together with friends and family. Sporting events (the Super Bowl), awards shows (the Oscars), reality TV (American Idol, Survivor), comedy (Broad City), and special events (the finale of Downton Abbey) are all a lot more fun to watch with other people.
2. Use TV as a bridge
If you’re having trouble connecting with someone—your sweetheart or your teenager—try watching TV together (even if football or Project Runway isn’t necessarily your favorite). Watching TV is companionable and a way to engage in a pleasant, undemanding way.
3. Record shows
Recording allows you to watch a particular show according to your own schedule and mood. Most important: If you’re sleepy, don’t stay up late to watch TV! Record a show, and finish watching it another time.
4. Or enjoy watching them live
Anticipation is an important aspect of happiness. Looking forward to a favorite show will heighten the pleasure you feel once you watch it. And it’s fun to think that people all across the country are sitting down to see what’s next on The Bachelor.
5. Enjoy commercials
This is particularly easy if you rarely watch TV. An enormous amount of creativity goes into creating commercials, and they can be fascinating if you pay attention. Not only that—surprisingly, a study shows that we enjoy TV more when it’s interrupted by commercials.
6. Learn about TV
The more you know about something, the more interesting it becomes. Read some TV criticism; read interviews with the creative people involved in your favorite shows; become more knowledgeable about what goes on behind the scenes.
7. Don't surf
Especially if you’re feeling frazzled from multitasking, don’t flip from one show to another. Sit down, start watching, sink into the experience and stay on one channel.
8. Choose to watch TV
Often, we don’t really choose TV, it’s just the easy default activity. Make the effort to ask yourself, “What do I choose to do for the next hour?” before you plop down with the remote control. In many cases, other activities would take a bit more effort to begin, but would yield more enjoyment in the long run.
If you watch TV mindfully, it can be a source of happiness, especially if you use it to connect with other people. If you watch it automatically, and for lack of anything better to do, it can be a drain on happiness.
Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of The Happiness Project, Happier at Home and Better than Before. She is one of the most influential writers on happiness today, and has become an in-demand speaker and keynoter. Learn more at GretchenRubin.com.