I’m Happier When I Don’t Read the News. Now What?

 

7866309682_4165b0bcd9_zI’ve been trying it as an experiment: not reading the news, at all. I didn’t really think it would make that much difference. The experiment is now going on Day 10, and the results are so dramatic that — were this a formal protocol — I’d be morally obliged to halt the experiment, take the control group off the placebo, and give them the no-news treatment.

The change is not — I repeat, not — a minor effect; and every bit of intuition (for what that’s worth) tells me that neither is it merely the result of expecting to feel better and therefore feeling better. I’m sleeping better. I’m waking up more refreshed. I’m enjoying every moment of my life more. I have more energy. I’m more patient with everyone around me. The effect is comparable to, say, getting regular physical exercise (as opposed to sitting on my rump all day), or to my change in mood when spring finally arrives after a long, cold and gloomy winter. I’m not so somatically self-involved that I take regular measurements of these things, but I’d be curious to know if I’ve experienced a change in blood pressure, resting heart rate, cortisol levels, and so forth. From the way I feel, I’d be unsurprised to learn that I have.

It makes sense, I suppose: the news is unremittingly bleak. I’m a fairly sensitive person. Of course I feel better when I don’t know what’s happening beyond my lovely and peaceful neighborhood. I’m sure it’s better for my mental and physical health to be cheerfully oblivious. But there’s only one problem: it’s wrong.

It’s true that my power to solve the world’s problems is extremely limited. Probably nugatory. It’s easy to say that, therefore, there’s no point in troubling myself with its condition. It’s even easy to say that it is affirmatively good to make oneself cheerfully and deliberately oblivious, if it allows one to be a kinder and more patient person in one’s daily interactions. I can talk myself into believing this for a while; I’m good at conducting very elaborate jury trials in my own head, and my attorney always wins.

But, if I’m honest with myself, this one doesn’t pass the categorical imperative test. I don’t want to live in a world in which everyone has — in effect — abdicated the duties and responsibilities of informed citizenship; this would not be a better place were we all to shut off the sound of the voices of our suffering fellow beings because we sleep better when we do. It isn’t human to say, “All those screams of agony are disturbing my wa, please bring me my earplugs.” Or rather, it’s quite human, but that’s not really the side of humanity of which we may all be proud.

I’ve spent a lifetime feeling something quite close to contempt for those around me who exhibit no interest in reality beyond their immediate worlds,
or no desire to participate in the unfolding story of human history. I don’t think I was wrong to feel that.

On the other hand, I now see clearly how much mental and physical harm accrues from paying attention. At the very least, I seem to be in good company. Thomas Jefferson apparently felt the same way: “I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.”

Has anyone here noticed anything similar? Figured out a way to thread this needle?

Image Credit: Flickr user: H. Raab.

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  1. kmtanner Inactive
    kmtanner
    @kmtanner

    Would the world be better if people didn’t read the news or follow the media at all and just minded their own business. I mean should you participate just because dumber people will?

    • #1
  2. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    I glance at news, but only from foreign websites. Websites in countries that never draw any American attention, and have preoccupations entirely their own. Some world news does slip through, but it’s usefully shrunken.

    • #2
  3. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Read history books, not newspapers. Current events make stories seem outsizes and like the most important thing that’s ever happened. They aren’t. You’re doing the right thing. Civilization will not collapse because you choose to do something that is completely healthy with practically no downside.

    • #3
  4. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon
    @BlueStateCurmudgeon

    I have been accused, with some justification,  of being a bit of a control freak so I share your frustration of being unable to influence the larger events of the world.  I guess I take some solace, as every good conservative should, of being as well informed as I can possibly be on the issues of the day and participating in the discussion regardless of my ability to effect the change I would like to see.  Having a site like Ricochet where I can vent, question, commiserate and learn makes me feel a lot better.

    • #4
  5. user_648492 Coolidge
    user_648492
    @MichaelBrehm

    I’m in the same boat as you, Claire. I actually have a friend who has sworn off the news, and he’s always crowing about the benefits that you elaborated above. While I’m tempted to follow his lead, I can’t bring myself to do so.  I feel that -at the very least- attention must be paid to the events of the day, however grim or comfortless they may be. However, as a coping mechanism, I do try to avoid the news on weekends or while I’m on vacation, and I also try to cut down on reading or viewing sources that have a tendency to get my blood boiling.

    • #5
  6. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Owing, I think, to the upgrade, I wasn’t able to add my photo to this post. I’d chosen a lotus floating serenely on a still pond. But the photo the editors chose is nice, too. Are those the Northern Lights? They look lovely. I’ve never seen them. I’d much rather look at photos of them than read a thousand commentaries on Obama’s ISIS speech.

    I guess I’m comfortable with that.

    • #6
  7. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    I agree, Claire. We must have an informed citizenry for a strong nation. One of my biggest complaints come election time are all those people out there that tune out current events all the rest of the time suddenly decide it is now their duty and right to go vote. How exactly can you make an informed decision on who sound represent you (from the town council all the way to DC) when you don’t have a clue what these people have been doing or saying the months and years before? Tune out if you want but leave the ballot box to those of us paying attention!! This is how we get the American Idol President.

    • #7
  8. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    I have found the exact same thing happen.  When I avoid the news, and news commentary, including Ricochet, I’m a happier, nicer, more productive individual.  My thoughts are deeper, more sustained on difficult topics, I’m less moody, it is like starting a regular exercise program after sitting around too much.

    The need to return is compelling, but I’ve begun to wonder if this isn’t just sports for nerds? When I consider what little, if anything, my knowledge of the current will result in (since as a slub living in the middle of nowhere.) What difference will it really make?  Are we just lying to ourselves that there is some moral imperative to be informed, because “being a good citizen”, a concept whose validity I increasingly question in modern America.  Is that our justification for our pet interest?  Perhaps being better people that hold our believes would make us better models and be more useful to society as citizens than being able to win a current events debate with a progressive co-worker? I’m just thinking aloud.  As you said, as a commentator and scholar you ability is nugatory.  What about the rest of us?  If you can’t influence events, are we really wasting our time?

    I don’t know the answer, I need to walk away from the computer now.

    • #8
  9. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    I’ve done this from time to time and, like you, have been happier for it.  But also, I feel like I should remain informed.

    My solution, the daily newspaper and Ricochet.

    The local newspaper has most everything I should know about.  It’s slow in delivery so there’s been some effort to focus the content.  The feel of reading a newspaper is enjoyable, tempering the negativity.  And I’m in control.  I can ignore the celebrity news if I want to.  (And I usually want to.)

    Ricochet keeps me in touch with the e-world.  I don’t want to be bothered bee-bopping around the internet.  Wastes too much time.  So I let you people do that and when you call something out I figure it is worth a go.

    So long story short – I keep the news at arms length.  I know about it but I don’t live it.

    • #9
  10. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    St. Salieri:I have found the exact same thing happen. When I avoid the news, and news commentary, including Ricochet, I’m a happier, nicer, more productive individual. My thoughts are deeper, more sustained on difficult topics, I’m less moody, it is like starting a regular exercise program after sitting around too much.

    The need to return is compelling, but I’ve begun to wonder if this isn’t just sports for nerds? When I consider what little, if anything, my knowledge of the current will result in (since as a slub living in the middle of nowhere.) What difference will it really make? Are we just lying to ourselves that there is some moral imperative to be informed, because “being a good citizen”, a concept whose validity I increasingly question in modern America. Is that our justification for our pet interest? Perhaps being better people that hold our believes would make us better models and be more useful to society as citizens than being able to win a current events debate with a progressive co-worker? I’m just thinking aloud. As you said, as a commentator and scholar you ability is nugatory. What about the rest of us? If you can’t influence events, are we really wasting our time?

    I don’t know the answer, I need to walk away from the computer now.

    Yeah, this is exactly the debate going ’round my head.

    • #10
  11. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Claire Berlinski: re those the Northern Lights? They look lovely. I’ve never seen them. I’d much rather look at photos of them than read a thousand commentaries on Obama’s ISIS speech.

    Either way we’re talking about illusions in the sky.

    • #11
  12. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    I have found the exact same thing happen.  When I avoid the news, and news commentary, including Ricochet I’m a happier, nicer, more productive individual.  At such times of fasting my thoughts are deeper, more sustained on difficult topics, and I’m much less likely to be moody.  The effect is like starting a regular exercise program after sitting around too much.

    The need to return is compelling but I’ve begun to wonder if this isn’t just sports for nerds? When I consider what changes,  if anything, my knowledge of the current events will result in (since as a slub living in the middle of nowhere), what difference will it really make?  Are we just lying to ourselves that there is some moral imperative to “be informed”, because we are “being a good citizen”, a concept whose validity I increasingly question in modern America.  Is that our self-justification for our pet interest(s)?  Perhaps being better people that live out our beliefs in productivity and kindness would make us better living models of our conservative/right leaning philosophies.  Perhaps that would be more useful for our society, and fulfill better the call to “be good citizens” than being able to win a current events debate with a progressive co-worker? I’m just thinking aloud.  As you said, as a commentator and scholar you ability is nugatory, then what about the rest of us?  If you can’t influence events, are we really wasting our time?

    I don’t know the answer, I need to walk away from the computer now.

    • #12
  13. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    That was weird, I went back in to fix my first post for some poor syntax and grammar – comment number 8, and there it is again.  I can’t remove the second iteration, my apologies.  I suspect the current maintenance has something to do with it.

    • #13
  14. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Complicating the calculus is the sense of the mendacity of the fourth estate. Not only is the news uniformly depressing, it’s almost completely unreliable. A person feels constantly provoked to distress, manipulated and lied to. Also debased.

    I’m not at all sure that we have a moral obligation to attend.

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Claire Berlinski:Owing, I think, to the upgrade, I wasn’t able to add my photo to this post. I’d chosen a lotus floating serenely on a still pond. But the photo the editors chose is nice, too. Are those the Northern Lights? They look lovely. I’ve never seen them. I’d much rather look at photos of them than read a thousand commentaries on Obama’s ISIS speech.

    I guess I’m comfortable with that.

    It’s a time-lapse shot of a thunderstorm with the International Space Station streaking by (that’s the white line on the top right).

    I’ve only seen the Aurora once, but it was an amazing show: an enormous, translucent, florescent, green worm (wyrm?) writhing in the sky.

    • #15
  16. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    Being informed is one thing. Being a news media consumer is something else.

    Let’s face it, the only time citizens have an opportunity to affect national affairs is on one day in November, every two years. On the other 729 or 730 days (if a leap year), there is a huge political/media industry applying pressure … subtle pressure, overt pressure, passive-aggressive pressure … but always pressure … to manipulate you to do what they want on that 731st day.

    The news media stories are hardly neutral recitations of facts. The news media put each story in context, in which “context” means how this particular item connects with every other item in the dense web of reality. Helpfully, they will construct that context for you, bestowing upon you an approved and sanctioned world perspective. It’s like wisdom-in-a-can. But, like characters in the Twilight Zone, or 1984, sooner or later the human spirit rebels against such “packaged wisdom.” And the human spirit eventually rebels against the constant, oppressive manipulation.

    Being informed is the responsible thing. But being a news media consumer is a grueling marathon of fighting the constant pressure. It gets tiring.

    • #16
  17. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for…but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.

    If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

    Robert A. Heinlein

    • #17
  18. Dex Quire Inactive
    Dex Quire
    @DexQuire

    The news itself makes it hard to remember that the news is for getting people jazzed up. Fire floods murder mayhem topped with a story about a cat with milk on its whiskers. It’s a kind of assembled fiction in a way. The amount of technical bulk needed for one on-site camera reporter would seem to preclude spontaneous gathering of information. Anyway, it’s important not to let it dominate your mind.

    • #18
  19. Look Away Inactive
    Look Away
    @LookAway

    Traditionally sports as been my refuge from the news. Not any more so back to the books and classic movies!

    • #19
  20. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Might not your observation be the ultimate justification for basic libertarian ideology. ?Is not most of the news someone coercing someone else to do something that someone else doesn’t want to do.

    • #20
  21. PenskeFile Inactive
    PenskeFile
    @PenskeFile

    katievs:Complicating the calculus is the sense of the mendacity of the fourth estate. Not only is the news uniformly depressing, it’s almost completely unreliable. A person feels constantly provoked to distress, manipulated and lied to. Also debased.

    I’m not at all sure that we have a moral obligation to attend.

    Exactly !  Very little of what passes for news is accurate or “reported” without bias.  This goes for both the left and the right.  If you’ve ever had inside knowledge of something and then seen it reported in the press, you know this to be true.

    I’m still looking for a good impartial, “just the facts ma’am” source of true news.  I used to think the Economist provided that, but I gave up on that publication a few years ago.

    • #21
  22. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    Solution: We divide up into teams and take shifts. We’ll rotate every two weeks; two weeks of Our normal world events consumption, two weeks off. Anything drastic happens that heeds attention from All, mass alerts through e-mails, social media, et. al.

    • #22
  23. La Tapada Member
    La Tapada
    @LaTapada

    A doctor I’ve read recommends “news fasts.” I did this twice this summer, for the first time, and it was wonderful. I did one-week news fasts, starting them on the weekends we went camping in the mountains. It was a little hard to stay away from Ricochet once we got home, but it felt good at the same time. I felt a physical and emotional peace during those weeks.

    It’s important to be informed and I enjoy following politics like other people follow sports, but being informed doesn’t mean following the news 24-7. I am going to schedule news fasts from now on, like I schedule vacations and other get-aways.

    • #23
  24. user_48342 Member
    user_48342
    @JosephEagar

    It’s a hard problem, Claire.  I try not to read the news too much, while still staying reasonably up to date.  In truth, I probably read far too little.

    • #24
  25. Fastflyer Member
    Fastflyer
    @Fastflyer

    As any combat veteran can tell you, the secret is to compartmentalize. Keeping up with the news like war, is a necessary evil. Like war, human beings can’t sustain todays flood of news, 24/7 forever. The evil needs to be tucked away into its corner and the mind allowed to decompress and partake of all the good that surrounds us in our everyday life. generals since the beginning of time have understood the necessity of Rest & Recuperation. Enjoy your R&R. You will also be surprised at how much better you reengage the foe once you reenter the fray. Carry on soldier.

    • #25
  26. user_30416 Member
    user_30416
    @LeslieWatkins

    I quit reading the newspaper and watching the news on television years ago, and it definitely has made me a less frantic, absolutist-minded person (a tendency of my personality). You don’t really need to keep up with the media because being online bombards you with everything, anyway, but at least online it is possible to avert your gaze somewhat. I regularly battle with myself about whether to go offline as well. But immediately I get a deep sense of how major the loss would be, and so my internal back-and-forth persists, even though I know I would end up liking being forced to think about something else besides politics and culture and intellectual decay. To pick up the guitar again. Cook more of my food. Take lots and lots of long walks. I have come to believe that the angst I feel is related to my not being willing to take a stand in life, to choose sides, if you will (recognizing the inevitable frustration over having no impact on that relationship, either). I’m often reminded of the scene in Biloxi Blues (the movie, 1988), where  Arnold takes Eugene to task for trying to mediate good and evil:  You’re a witness. You’re always standing around watching what’s happening, scribbling in your book what other people do. You have to get in the middle of it. You have to take sides. Make a contribution to the fight. Any fight. The one you believe in. Avoiding the fight is probably worse than the fight itself, but who wants to find out? The times we’re in make me want to follow Arnold’s advice and throw myself directly into the fray (whatever that would mean) and find meaning in that, but Eugene’s recognition of Arnold’s inability to interact with others, and thus of human infallibility and the impossibility of truly understanding each other makes me want to take Jerome’s advice and just go dancing.

    • #26
  27. Pony Convertible Inactive
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    About ten years ago, I decided to see if I could stop watching TV for one summer, Memorial Day to Labor Day.  That summer turned into three years without watching one minute of TV.   It was the best three years of my life.   Then they brought TVs into our cafeteria at work.  I got hooked again. 

    Last spring, remembering how good life was without TV, I decided to try another experiment and stopped watching the news (except the weather).  My happiness quotient has skyrocketed (again).  Life is so much simpler, and pleasant.  My focus is on my family, my work, my friends, my life.    Now when I sit down at lunch at work and hear people obsessing and upset over what is on the news, I think, “Gawd, I used to be that way.”  I used to be so unhappy because of things I couldn’t control, and had no significant impact on my life.

     If I can make an impact, I want to get involved and be active.  On the other hand, those things that don’t impact me directly and are completely outside my control I am going to continue to ignore.   It really improves your life.

    • #27
  28. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire, welcome to the life of the low information voter or even the non voter.  It is not that LIVs are dumb, or that they do not care, it is just that they want to be happy.  In the end they understand that whatever they do, no matter how much they pay attention, or how they vote, it does not matter.  The Powers That Be are going to do what they want, the way they want, when they want, the citizenry be damned.  So why make yourself unhappy paying attention to stuff that does not matter and you can not control anyway?  Just pay attention to those things that are important to your life.  I many time think they may have the right of it.

    • #28
  29. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    This is why automatically-curated news is so popular. When I sit down to the computer in the morning and turn on Google News, I get all sorts of interesting stories about neat-o stuff, and almost no depressing stories about stupid people in power doing stupid things, or stupid people not in power proposing stupid things in order to get in power, etc.

    • #29
  30. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    News is history in the making.  For that reason alone it is fascinating.  While I agree that life is happier without so much news, I do like being informed.  Like any addiction, you just have to keep it under control.  Having said that, I think I’ll go start on my list for the day!

    • #30
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