A Simple Piece of Advice
By Joel F. Wade - September 18, 2012

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper

Go to the country, build you a home

Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches

Try and find Jesus on your own. – John Prine

Sometimes what's most important for your sense of happiness and wellbeing in life is what you don't do. There are vices such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse and impulsive anger that very clearly and predictably can destroy your health and/or your happiness. I was thinking about some of the common hurtful behaviors that continue to come around with my clients year after year, and one stands out significantly: watching TV.

I don't mean watching an occasional show and I don't think you have to get rid of your television entirely. But every time you sit down and turn on a news show you are likely to feel worse by the time you're finished.

Not only is it obviously skewed politically but it is also skewed toward the worst, most violent and horrific behavior of humanity from around the world.

While mankind's history has been chock full of violence and horrors, as civilization has developed, violence has decreased at a nearly miraculous pace, as Steven Pinker shows in his book The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. You can find more about that in Lawrence Keeley's book, War Before Civilization.

Of course, for any victim of crime, this decrease is irrelevant at the time. Violence is violence, and the experience can be devastating.

But here's the problem with TV: As I write this, there are 7,031,500,129 people on Earth at this moment. Unless human nature changes and violence completely disappears from the face of the Earth, even the tiniest percentage of those seven billion-plus people will be causing trouble, some of them horrific, brutal, devastatingly evil trouble.

The chances that any of that is happening or is likely to happen to you or your loved ones is not zero but it is certainly dramatically lower than the news shows would lead you to believe.

But what is the job of the news show? It is to entice people to watch. And the producers know that the most powerful method for succeeding at this is to show you the most traumatic, horrifying news from around the world. We are wired to pay attention to these things. When you come from such epically violent roots as humanity does it is important to pay attention to threats. When we see a threat, we look at it and our physiology changes to prepare ourselves for the danger.

The incentive for the news shows is to get you to watch and the most effective method is to pipe into your living room the most horrifying stories, with graphic film and dramatic narration.

This does two things to you:

1. You feel like danger is everywhere and immediate, in a way that it likely is not – unless you live in a war zone, an extremely violent neighborhood, or live with a physically abusive and terrorizing person.

2. Because the danger is removed in reality, there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. You therefore not only feel the horror of what you see; you also feel completely helpless to do anything about it.

I think this is one reason for the great popularity of the superhero movies, like "The Avengers," "Iron Man," etc. By allowing you to identify with the hero, you get to feel powerful and competent to deal with the overwhelming violence you see on your TV every day.

I am not suggesting that you bury your head in the sand and pretend that everything is okay. There are plenty of problems in this world and we solve them by paying attention and taking effective action. Prepare yourself reasonably to defend against violence and danger, be alert to signs of possible trouble, read Gavin de Becker's great book The Gift of Fear so that you know what to look for.

But watching TV news gives you a radically skewed sense of the world, which undermines your sense of trust and wellbeing, while the helplessness you feel in the face of it can lead to depression.

Today's column is short and sweet. The next time you feel yourself drawn to turn on the news to see what's happening in the world… don't do it. Have a look at the headlines, take a few minutes to read a website you can trust, and then turn it off and get back to what's really important: your loved ones and friends, your work, your interests, your activities that you can feel competent and effective at pursuing.

Focus on those things upon which you can have an impact. Don't waste your precious time on what you are helpless to do anything about.

You don't have to actually blow up your TV, as John Prine suggests, but you can turn it off. This simple act can make a world of difference for you.