Pigeon of Discontent: News of the World Makes Me Unhappy.

Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by those small but pesky Pigeons of Discontent.

This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “Bad news of the world makes me unhappy.”


If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…

The “negativity bias, ” or, bad feelings are stronger than good.

 7 tips for handling criticism.

Do you think I’m correct that some people seem to be highly affected by bad news of natural disasters, true crime, or alarming social trends, while other people seem to be much less personally disturbed by this kind of news? That’s just my own observation, so I’m curious to hear if it rings true to others.

You can check out the archives of videos here. It’s crazy–my YouTube channel has passed the mark for one million viewers.

  • I have given up TV for the most part. Even before election season, it just got to be too much. I have also pulled away from Facebook because the hatefulness and ignorance is more than I can bear. I found that I stayed so worked up over stupidity and negativity that I was always upset and could not be the kind of positive person I wanted to be. As an introvert, I feel like I feel things so much more deeply and profoundly than others who seem able to blow off even the worst news. If something truly important happens, I will find out about it. But to save my sanity and soothe my soul, I have to tune out.

    • Mommabird

      I unhooked my tv to lay new flooring in the living room. I left it unhooked for six weeks and didn’t miss it. I hooked it back up just to watch movies on Netflix. I cancelled cable. My sons have a TV in the basement for their Xbox – and can watch Netflix through the Xbox. I cancelled the paper two years ago. I listen to an alt rock station in the car that doesn’t do any news, just music. I AM SO MUCH HAPPIER. It’s funny how, if I tell this to people, they will adamantly argue that I MUST Kepple up with current events. I counter with : why, when doing so makes me unhappy? For fb, I have taken all friends out of my newsfeed who post negative things. My newsfeed is very short these days!

      • Chris

        Agree 100%. I have family members who are political news junkies, but I found that it just all made me so angry that I had to carve it out of my life. I’ve been more or less away from news for about 2 years now and can honestly say I’m happier for it. My family members on the other hand always seem to be irate about something at all times and family get-togethers often consist of them getting riled up about something in the news and when they ask me my opinion I tell them “I’m pretty happy to report that I have no idea what you’re talking about right now. But if you want to talk about the ball game last night, I’m ready!”

      • Anne

        I grew up without TV, because my parents were anti. As an adult, I tried to watch it for a while, but I just can’t get into it. I had one, but gave it away. I think I have more time than many other people, since I don’t watch TV.

    • RBO

      I also am an introvert, and I agree that things tend to affect us more profoundly… our systems are more sensitive to stimuli, so we have to be a bit more cautious about the stimuli to which we expose ourselves if we are to maintain our emotional equilibria. Mommabird, we took your approach to handling the irritations posed by the “dumbing down” and coarsening of American culture, and the stridency of media reports: we stopped our cable service. Between the internet, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, we get all the visual entertainment we need — and of our choosing — and we can filter out the “noise” we abhor. I tried Facebook once before closing my account. People thought I was crazy not to love it, but recently, my husband — and then my teenaged son (!!!) — followed suit, very much to my surprise. It had become for them a tsunami of useless blathering and negativity by people they didn’t necessarily know in person! All the measures I’ve outlined made our household calmer and more pleasant. Allof us are reading more, and my son and I have been watching classic old movies together, which he has enjoyed as much as I have! We also keep a closer eye on cultural events around town, and the money we save on cable now goes toward concert tickets, showings of classic films at the local theater, or nice meals out. I keep my eyes on the news headlines via the NYT and The Week magazine, but can pick them up when I’m “steeled” for news, and forego the articles about isolated negative events that would cause needless worry. Gayle, your coworker’s response was not within the bounds of normality in terms of emotional stability. She should ask her internist to refer her to a qualified professional.

      • Tessa

        Hey, RBO, can I come and live nextdoor to you? You sound like you live just like me : no TV, no newspapers, no Facebook, no Twitter……… I don’t even access the Internet on my mobile ‘phone !! I read books, have real conversations with people, watch good movies, go to ballet, opera, classical music, jazz….you name it….. concerts, big live sports events, art exhibitions, museums….. The negativity of news effects me really badly and what I do about it is I donate a portion of my earnings every month to a worthy cause – and there are plenty of these – and I work at making the world around me a better place – I can’t do much about things happening elsewhere, but I can affect my immediate environment. I’m a high school teacher and have a special focus on this with my students. We do things month by month – just small simple things to make a difference. This month we are concentrating on public transport – where we sit and stand on public transport – does it make it easier for other commuters to get to and from seats and doors – do we stand up and give our seat to elders? – how much noise do we make? and what are our topics of conversation/language in public?

        Gretchen, I would far rather read your wonderful blog than ‘keep up to date with the news’ !!!

        • RBO

          Would love to have you as a neighbor! 🙂

      • Manda

        Plus who really cares about the bowl of ice cream someone just ate? Thats why i quit my facebook – ‘ice cream’ (2 hrs later) ‘yum’ (2 hrs later) ‘best eva’ …

    • Manda

      I’ve done the exact same thing. It took me a while to figure out what the cause was, and now i dont even discuss the news with my partner. It’s very depressing to come home to ‘lets talk about this negative thing’ each night, so i’ve banned all talk of politics as well (and religion, and not just with my partner). You are correct, if something truly important happens, you find out about it, as for the rest – tune out! My life is better for it (and my partner stays in a current state of panic about the government of Australia – its all going to hell, yes, but lets at least have fun on the way).

  • Theresa

    I have a coworker who was practically in tears over the recent fires in Colorado. Did she have family or friends out there? Nope. She knew no one but would spend a lot of time feeling sad and mourning the fires and the destruction. She often looked at me in distress when she talked about it and expected me to feel the same way she did. I agree that the fires are tragic. However I don’t have family or friends out there so while it saddens me to think of the destruction, I won’t let myself get in a tizzy about it because it does not have a direct effect on my life. This may make me seem cold-hearted but I can’t mourn every natural disaster. If I did, I would spend my whole life in mourning!

  • Yes. I think you’re right. I never, ever watch TV and rarely read the news. I joke that if it’s really important it will pierce my twitter bubble. But I’m only sort of kidding. I find I’m happier this way. Less informed, certainly, and I worry that makes me a poorer citizen of the world, but for now it works.

  • fireflyeyes

    I am definitely the opposite of this. I thrive on detailed news analysis and discussion of current events. Not that I am entirely unmoved by news of disasters, and sometimes I do need to take break when there is a lot of doom and gloom, but in general I listen to BBC Radio 4 or NPR pretty steadily. I feel better when I know what is going on in the world.

    • gretchenrubin

      As I mentioned in the video, I think there’s an important distinction between detailed news analysis and events like forest fires (as mentioned in an earlier comment).

  • Laurel Holman

    I think you are right, people react differently because of differences in their temperament. I am in the middle of reading the book “The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive when the World Overwhelms Them” by Elaine Aron, and she talks about how some people (about 20% of the population) are “highly sensitive” and more likely to be affected by things like negative news, among other things. (It’s a great read if you have a sensitive child, and there’s a similar book by her about adults.)

    I agree very much with your advice to “limit the inputs.” The availability and consumption of news has gone way up in recent years and there is far more of it out there than we really need in order to be appropriately informed citizens of the world.

    • Kate

      I read her “The Highly Sensitive Person” this Summer and it literally has changed my entire life. I understand myself so much better now, why certain things (like gruesome news stories or irritating noises) get to me so much more than most others.

  • Alysa

    Gretchen, I like the idea of limiting your consumption of news. I filter mine through my husband. He gets all the news and I ask him what he read and/or watched.

  • peninith1

    Amen to setting boundaries!! The 9/11 attacks and a terrible car accident happened for my son in the same year. I found myself unable to stay asleep at night, tormented by images of the larger horror as well as my son’s injuries (he recovered very well, happily!). I decided that it was video images and visuals that really disturbed me the most. I canceled my cable TV, continued to listen to NPR for its in depth coverage of real world and political news, and kept up with ‘popular culture’ news events–tsunamis, shocking murders, earthquakes and the like–by just checking headlines on my computer but not delving into the ghastly details. My life is so very much better. I continue to be an informed citizen, but I am no longer literally assaulted by the news.
    Worth considering: some things are in your ‘circle of influence’–you can do something about them. I made a quilt and sent it to a village in Japan overwhelmed by the tsunami. One person doing something for one other person somewhere can help. I sent a little money. I didn’t wallow in details of losses or recoveries. We can only take in so much. Other situations are merely in your ‘circle of concern’–I try to pray with enough trust to turn the job over to God and the people who are capable of responding, and then LET IT GO.
    I do believe that one of my most important secrets of adulthood is this: “Fretting and worrying are not expressions of love.”

  • Elin Goulden

    I agree in principle, but it’s not always possible to limit one’s consumption of news entirely – particularly if you need to stay on top of the news – sad stories included, or even especially – for your job. I work in promoting social justice for a church organization, so staying on top of news, whether politics, environmental issues (which include natural disasters), refugee and poverty issues is a key part of what I do, and as the whole point of my work is to raise awareness, I obviously don’t recommend people reduce their awareness!
    I am also a high “Feeling” type on the Myers-Briggs scale and I can find it difficult to separate my own emotional state from the state of the world. Your suggestion to take action (i.e. donate to victims of a natural disaster) is one I often adopt. Some other ideas I’d suggest:
    1) I intentionally work on converting my thoughts/worries about a situation into a prayer instead, which has the effect of calming me down and, whatever your opinion on the efficacy of prayer, it sure does a lot more good than fretting about it!
    2) I also make a point of looking for the good in stories, where people have rallied around to help victims of crime, natural disasters etc. I find stories of people overcoming odds or reaching out to help others even more uplifting than mere good news
    3) If there’s a lot of negativity around something I definitely DO cut myself off from that. For instance I will read the news article online, but I almost NEVER read the comments. I practice the same on Facebook – I don’t follow or comment upon negative posts. This is especially important when hotly-contested elections are coming up.

    • elle.victor

      I share your approach, Elin. My personality is highly empathetic and I do get upset about the news. I do get riled up when I feel like injustice is happening or that people are spinning information to make it what they want, not presenting the facts. But it’s more important to me to know what’s going on in the world so I can be aware of what other people are going through, and also so I can keep my life in the US in context and maintain perspective. I try to avoid negativity like you do by not reading the comments, not participating in negativity myself, etc. Cable news is basically useless, so I don’t watch it. If a news source seems like it’s sharing only negative stories (sensationalism!), I avoid it. It’s a matter of cultivating what comes into your life but also realizing we live in a tough world with things that need to change for the better.

    • Nicole

      Mr. Rogers (yes, THAT Mr. Rogers) counseled kids to, “Look for the helpers.” Good advice for us adults too.

  • Amy

    I find that the visuals are the most disturbing part of the news, so I don’t get my news from t.v. I listen to NPR and read the newspaper online. I still am aware of what is happening in the world, but am not crying in front of my t.v. while eating dinner.

    • Anne

      I agree. I can read a lot more disturbing stuff than I can watch.

      If there’s a story that is upsetting and I can’t do anything about it, I may stop at the headline.

  • RickRead

    30 years ago (!) I lived in Silicon Valley and read an article about Type A people – I knew immediately I was reading about myself. I enrolled for some seminars at the Meyer Friedman Institute (it was local in the Bay Area – he wrote the book on Type A behavior) and I was diagnosed. Part of the treatment was to reduce consumption of “news”. I didn’t know I could responsibly do that! “Recovery” is a process, but that has helped and I recommend it. It is possible to be informed without being obsessed, but it does take a measure of self discipline to do so.

  • I’m so happy that I cancelled my cable a couple years back. Especially in the time of uber-negative politics, there’s just no reason for it. Some of my passions mesh with current events (i.e. the environment), but I don’t find it necessary to be an expert on repeating what I hear on TV, and I fully admit to never wanting to be an expect on war and politics. It isn’t who I am. I read about current events that matter, and I receive pings for local news that matters (i.e. traffic, neighborhood trends, local initiatives). There is no point in getting wrapped up in it. IMO, it doesn’t matter who said what in the presidential debate, I control my life and my happiness.

  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    I think it’s more than types of news (natural disasters) — sometimes it feels like the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket (I get a lot of anxiety around the Euro crisis). I’ve pretty much banned TV news in the house (except for the Daily Show), and I don’t read news online — I get enough of it filtered through my husband (who’s a news hound) and my Facebook Feed.

  • Katie

    This is me and I really struggle with it because I want to be a knowledgeable citizen of the world. I haven’t been able to find a good unbiased, brief, and sensationalized news source yet. It sounds like several commenters like NPR though…

    • Katie


  • ChrisD

    Another factor to bear in mind is that the news does not provide a USEFUL summary of what is happening. Crime has been steadily going down for the last 30 years, but you wouldn’t know it from the news. The BBC was fined for sensationalising crime reports. When you consider that it has a guaranteed income and does not need to ‘sell newspapers’ I really felt that was the nail in the coffin for the idea of getting a balanced view of the world from the news. Also when we started the war, each day the radio would mention how many UK soldiers where accidentally killed by US soldiers (as far as I could understand from the news these were the only deaths amongst our soldiers!) yet never mentioned the wider issues, like how we deposed the democratically elected Shah in the ’50s because he wanted to keep a bit more of the oil revenues to develop the country.
    Also newspaper columns are shortened by chopping off the end, thus they are written one sentence at a time, and cannot develop an argument or a point.

    News is useless, read books, or perhaps articles.

  • Elizabeth

    In this political season, I have completely recused myself from all television, radio, and print media. The ads, the debates, the stories…I listen to none of them. I realized I don’t need to follow the elections on a minute by minute basis! One week before the elections, I will choose one or two respected news sources and review the issues, choose my candidates, and then I’ll vote. That’s it.

  • I’m not sure if it’s that some people are more prone to all news stories in general vs. other people ignore them, but for me personally, I tend to pay attention or I am impacted by specific news stories that pull at my heart strings. For example, the death of the Jessica girl in Colorado this past week. These types of stories DEFINITELY impact my overall happiness. :/

  • Kate

    I limit the news in terms of timing,too. On workdays I watch about 15 minutes or so of news while I eat breakfast. I work in a big city so I want to know what’s going in that city, transportation issues, weather, and major stories before I head out in the world. At work I’ll check my local news site a couple of times and just read headlines or the occasional story. But I don’t watch news at night after work and NEVER before bed. If I do that I can get really anxious and downhearted and wound-up. For some reason, news get to me even more than a movie with dark content. And on weekends, unless something major is happening right in my community, I don’t watch/read news at all, and rarely even get online. (Today, a Saturday, is an exception!)

  • Mel

    The hardest thing for me to deal with is quarreling and bickering in any form, so election season is very trying. I feel like I have to skip most of the news right now or I get sucked down into a negative vortex of trying to figure out a way that both sides can be in harmony.