The Three Types of Fun, and the secret of why people watch so much TV.

I’ve been thinking a lot about TV and happiness. Research published in Science magazine using the Day Reconstruction Method showed that participants ranked TV-watching very high among their daily activities.

At the same time, Shifting Careers, on how to handle informational interviews. I read her post, as always–and was suprised and pleased to see that I made a guest appearance.

New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Another way of breaking this down is in terms of producing versus consuming. It’s a bit abstract, but it has resulted in several aha moments when I realized that something wasn’t very satisfying because I was just consuming, not producing. I would group challenging and accomodating fun under producing and relaxing fun under consuming. You can also draw parallels to giving and receiving.

  • “if relaxing fun is the least fun kind of fun, why is watching TV so popular?” Um, maybe because people are lazy? And I’d like to know where these five hours come from. By the time you work, go to the store, go to the gym, eat (cook first sometimes), how much time do you have before bed?

  • Personally, I started watching TV more frequently when my parents divorced. It became my babysitter after school. I liked having the noise in the background.
    In college, when I was feeling lonely and missing my mom, I’d watch the shows the two of us used to enjoy together on Friday or Saturday nights, which was “our time” together.
    As I get older, I watch less TV than I used to, but still find it comforting. I like having the option, to be honest. However, I do find that watching it for too long makes me unhappy (because I feel unproductive). There was also a 30-day experiment I tried in September where I cut TV out altogether. That made me downright miserable, and I folded after seven days.
    As Gretchen points out, it’s a balance, and who’s to say one person’s TV habits are wrong and another’s are right? If watching TV makes you happy, I say, go for it. This life is all about figuring out what makes each of us happy and it’s no one’s business but our own how we go about doing it.
    Cool post today, Gretchen – thanks!

  • About the “five hours” statistic — I’ve wondered about that myself. does having the news on while you’re getting dressed in the morning count as “watching TV”? Because that’s not really the equivalent of watching two hours of TV while slumped on the sofa.

  • I’ve read some fantastic novels and some great non-fiction while slumped on the sofa. Is that the equivalent of watching TV?
    Is spending five hours watching Dancing with the Stars and American Idol the equivalent of watching a DVD of Schindler’s List or a documentary like Planet Earth? I’ve never bought into the belief that TV in and of itself is bad.
    Clearly the quality of the activity is more important than the generic activity itself.
    Perhaps even more important is the fundamental truth that too much of anything will make you less happy. My guess is that the study could have been about anything at all and found that if you do too much of it, you’d be less happy.
    Moderate activity on things that feel important to you brings on the bliss. Of course, what is important to you is subject to change.
    I think there is fun that matters and fun that doesn’t. We usually feel better when we have fun that matters. But fun that matters can come from passive activities. And the question of what matters is subjective.

  • I have found that going to see movies is fun for me, and makes me happier. (I don’t have a TV.) While it would seem that a movie is the same as television, I discovered that it really accomodational fun. I have to plan to go to the theater, spend some money, and afterwards I write about it in my blog.

  • adora

    Watching TV or movies can help conversation with others. It is something we can share without over sharing our personal lives. My dad doesn’t watch any TV(just the news), and it’s apparent that it affects relationships.
    I’ve been trying to have more accommodating fun with people who’d prefer relaxing fun. My solution is to do things that one must do anyway, but together.
    I’ve been getting hair cuts with my friends. It’s surprisingly rewarding with little efforts. It must be why some women get their nails done all the time.
    Last week, I went to get passport renewal with my friend. It makes the unpleasant wait bearable.

  • Wendy

    Dana Gioia made related points in his commencement speech at Stanford last June. His title urged new grads to “Trade Easy Pleasures for More Complex and Challenging Ones.”
    He contrasted passive entertainment like tv with the personal and civic rewards of participating in the arts and community affairs. This speech hit a nerve and showed up on some artist sites last summer. I enjoy your blog–thanks!

  • When I visit my ashram, or got to dharma talks, there is something about sitting and listening to a teacher that feels tribal and essential. Sometimes I think that sitting around a TV set with friends and family (or alone) is an activity that satisfies that part of us that just wants to listen to the stories of the elders.
    As much as I dislike most of what’s on TV, I do find myself watching TV shows on DVD (Netflix is a good resource for this). For someone who lives alone, it provides some abstract, easy form of socializing when real socializing is off-limits. There is comfort in revisiting characters, becoming part of their little fictional world.
    I limit myself to DVDs because it provides some quality control and I don’t have to sit through advertising/brainwashing, and I can parcel out the entertainment in small, manageable doses.

  • You don’t think you have the energy for challenging fun until you do it.
    I started taking walks around the local lake with my husband after work a while back. It was exhausting at first, but after several walks, I began to notice a general “lifting of the spirits” in the rest of my day.
    I’m sure that just because it’s exercise, it’s helping my mood. But I have a feeling that just breaking out of the routine and getting out into nature with my best friend has a bunch to do with my happiness level as well!
    Thanks for this post!

  • An interesting question…is watching TV the same as watching a movie on TV?
    I am NOT bashing TV, by the way. I love TV. And I think the point that “moderation is pleasant to the wise” is absolutely right.
    But there’s something about TV-watching that makes it very easy to slip from actually enjoyable, engaging, TV-watching into slack-jawed, channel-changing dumbness. That doesn’t really happen with a movie. You might get bored, but you don’t go into a trance the way you can with TV. And movies are over in 2 or 3 hours. You can be in a TV zone state for 4 or 5.
    but again, there’s nothing wrong with TV or with relaxing fun. It’s just a question of: are you having AS MUCH FUN as you could? You might as well.

  • Mmmm Lovely Post buddy, U have done nice piece of work.

  • KCCC

    A much-belated comment…
    I really liked this categorization when I first read it, and have found it useful in looking at my own life (What kind of fun do I have now? What do I want more of? Less of?)
    BUT… I took issue with your name “accomodating fun.” Clearly, that SHOULD have been “social fun,” thought I. And I used that in my own head.
    Until this morning, when I caught myself mentally grumbling over my someone else’s choice of a restaurant for tonight, and listing reasons why MY choice would have been better. Then it struck me. This is ACCOMMODATING fun. You don’t get to make all the choices. Doh!
    Right. Okay. Well, then.
    Maybe you did have the right name. 🙂

  • Do people need all three types of fun? For example, can someone live with no relaxing fun? How much of each type of fun does someone need to be happy? How much of one type of fun does it take before you are unhappy (particularly relaxing fun)?

  • Amritavidya

    Hi, I am coming to this website for the first time and find it very enjoyable. Is there anyway you could point me to the direction of where you wrote about the ‘three types of fun’? I can’t find it anywhere. Thanks!

  • Rachel

    Hmm, I think this page might have gotten messed up!

  • lalala