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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There are 54 comments.

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  1. Hydrogia Inactive
    Hydrogia
    @Hydrogia

    The people who stay informed and get organized and politically active have an impact, they are in the game and can make a  big difference. This is how we are ruled ruled by The O and the swarming minions of the Alinsky brigades of PC Marxist goons. That is why  you are needed on the  barricades.

    • #31
  2. Southern Pessimist Member
    Southern Pessimist
    @SouthernPessimist

    I think you are on to something Claire. It takes very little information to be a responsible citizen and perhaps less to be a nurturing parent or spouse. There are so many areas of information that I feel blessed to be able to avoid. I have tried to avoid all news before and have experienced similar feelings as you. I have a friend who takes one day a week completely off from all responsibilities and communication that he calls Mental Health Mondays. Maybe one day a week would be a start.

    • #32
  3. Southern Pessimist Member
    Southern Pessimist
    @SouthernPessimist

    The philosopher, Bob Seegar, got it right when he said, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

    • #33
  4. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Southern Pessimist:I have a friend who takes one day a week completely off from all responsibilities and communication that he calls Mental Health Mondays.

    Formerly known as “the Sabbath,” I believe? Yeah, strange how sensible those commandments turn out to be.

    • #34
  5. user_130720 Member
    user_130720
    @

    St. Salieri: 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?  …..  If you can’t influence events, are we really wasting our time?

    Yes, unfortunately. And–as Claire points out and past personal experiments confirm–we are also wasting our health.

    • #35
  6. Beach Baby Member
    Beach Baby
    @

    Ever since Obama got elected I’ve been more of a butterfly than a bee with current events. Butterflies flit from flower to flower, tasting nectar here and there;  Bees stay on a flower for quite awhile, deeply sucking out the pollen. For my mind,  just a taste of poison is less harmful than soaking in it.

    • #36
  7. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    I avoid all broadcast media (especially cable news, and talk radio).

    I keep in touch with what’s going on by checking Drudge, The Federalist, City Journal, National Review online.

    Ricochet, Ricochet podcasts, and Radio Derb function as a sort of weekly news brief.

    Seriously, I can’t do anything about what’s happening other than now in election season working as a campaign volunteer for people who maybe can. So why get all wrapped up in the details?

    I listen to books a lot (and it’s history and fiction. No economics or polemics). Some I can download from my local library. A lot I buy from Ricochet sponsor Audible.com (which, unsolicited plug, I’m very satisfied with and recommend highly).

    • #37
  8. GLDIII Reagan
    GLDIII
    @GLDIII

    So the vibe I am getting from Claire and the commentoria is that Bliss is indeed Ignorance?

    I shudder everything I see those “Man Person in the Street” clips from Watter’s World or Jimmy Kimmel

    • #38
  9. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    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.

    A thought… we’re free market types, and news is a business.  It should respond to market signals.

    For instance, suppose you buy a copy of the NY Times because you feel a vague imperative to “be informed,” then find yourself fuming about the unreliable reporting.  I’d argue that by paying for it you’re subsidizing that reporting and sending a market signal to encourage more of the same.  Even if you just read the web site, you’re generating traffic and clicks that they can convert into ad revenue.

    In other words, you can positively change the world by boycotting all unreliable news sources.  Voting with your dollars might have as much or more impact than elections.  That way you can have your cake and eat it too: be happier, and stop subsidizing poor reporting.

    • #39
  10. user_1126573 Member
    user_1126573
    @

    I’ve got your solution all figured out. Here is what to counter the effects of various news interactions

    New York Time front page

    Rx: Cat video on YouTube

    Ricochet post

    Rx: Baby video on YouTube

    Twitter war with leftist idiot

    Rx: Panda video on YouTube

    Economist article

    Rx: Children dancing video on YouTube

    Point of caution, though, ignore the comments below the videos. Hope that helps.

    • #40
  11. user_1126573 Member
    user_1126573
    @

    Of course the truly conservative response to Claire’s question is, “Who said you’re allowed to be happy?”

    • #41
  12. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    John Wilson:I’ve got your solution all figured out. Here is what to counter the effects of various news interactions

    New York Time front page

    Rx: Cat video on YouTube

    Ricochet post

    Rx: Baby video on YouTube

    Twitter war with leftist idiot

    Rx: Panda video on YouTube

    Economist article

    Rx: Children dancing video on YouTube

    Point of caution, though, ignore the comments below the videos. Hope that helps.

    Or you could just watch Red Eye, which pretty much follows that exact formula.

    • #42
  13. user_49770 Inactive
    user_49770
    @wilberforge

    There is a line from a movie,

    “Do you read the newspaper ?

    The answer “Yes”.

    Then …”Read the funnies first, you’ll live longer “.

    Some truth there. One stopped  viewing MSM in the Mid-70’s with a few exceptions and it does make a difference. The MSM today is nearly unwatchable as well as most major print media.

    As one has more time now, the effort is to compile and sift through mountains of data prior to reaching any defensible solution. There is some pleasure in that at last.

    • #43
  14. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    John Wilson:Of course the truly conservative response to Claire’s question is, “Who said you’re allowed to be happy?”

    However, said you shouldn’t be and also be a conservative?

    Wasting time being unproductively unhappy about things that I can do nothing about seems like an un-conservative position in the least.

    There is enough tragedy in “real” life, let me be unhappy there – where I can do something or at least live through that which is occurring to me and my kith and kin and community.  If I needs must be unhappy.

    Suffering for my faith is one thing, suffering insomnia and upset stomach from too much Drudge report is not the same thing.

    • #44
  15. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    St. Salieri

    John Wilson:Of course the truly conservative response to Claire’s question is, “Who said you’re allowed to be happy?”

    However, who said you shouldn’t be happy and also be a conservative?  Humor flows from the tragic view of life.

    Wasting time being unproductively unhappy about things that I can do nothing about seems like an un-conservative position in the least.

    There is enough tragedy in “real” life, let me be unhappy there – where I can do something or at least live through that which is occurring to me and my kith and kin and community.  If I needs must be unhappy.

    Suffering for my faith is one thing, suffering insomnia and upset stomach from too much Drudge report is not the same thing.

    Edited for grammar/clarity fix

    • #45
  16. St. Salieri Member
    St. Salieri
    @

    Stinking edit function is out to get me…it is making me unhappy!

    • #46
  17. user_130720 Member
    user_130720
    @

    St. Salieri: Suffering for my faith is one thing, suffering insomnia and upset stomach from too much Drudge report is not the same thing.

    St. Salieri: Suffering for my faith is one thing, suffering insomnia and upset stomach from too much Drudge report is not the same thing.

    ;-)

    ;-)

    • #47
  18. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Claire Berlinski:

    Southern Pessimist:I have a friend who takes one day a week completely off from all responsibilities and communication that he calls Mental Health Mondays.

    Formerly known as “the Sabbath,” I believe? Yeah, strange how sensible those commandments turn out to be.

    Only strange if you believe neither that God instituted them nor that nomadic desert-dwelling human beings surrounded by other human beings bent on their destruction could possibly have developed highly-evolved survival and stress-management skills. :-)

    Threading the needle: I recently destroyed all my social media accounts except this one (and, frankly, when it lapses I don’t intend to renew). I have one out-of-state public speaking engagement this month that I expect to be my last. I haven’t watched TV news or listened to the radio in far longer than I can remember. There are local Meetups I’ll continue to participate in, none of which are political in nature.

    How do I stay engaged? My family, my church (well, once I get my lazy butt back in the pew—I’ve said I’m a bad Lutheran before. Maybe I should wear <a href=”http://www.cafepress.com/mf/22640031/and-god-said_tshirt?utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=175568711&utm_source=google&utm_campaign=sem-cpc-product-ads&utm_content=search-pla&productId=175568711″>this</a> on Sunday). As fulfilling ethical responsibilities go, I take undue pride in having helped raise one of the most brilliant, moral young men I know, despite being pained by what seems to be his admittedly studied non-aggressive atheism. There is plenty to do, locally, to make the world a better place, and it’s precisely my faith in the emergent properties of individual effort and goodness—the belief that it’s logically inconsistent to expect either “good society” to emerge without good individuals, or good individuals to emerge from “good society,” that makes me a libertarian in the first place.

    There is also the question of exactly how effective you can possibly be when stressed out. Most people have a terrible time distinguishing between important and urgent at the best of times. That judgment is impaired as dramatically by stress as it is by alcohol, which makes the tendency for the two to be positively correlated all the more unfortunate.

    So sine we seem to be in a comtemplative and even, dare I say, religious, frame of mind:

    “<a href=”http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Meditations/Be_Still/be_still.html”>Be still, and know that I am G-d.</a>” — Psalm 46:10

    • #48
  19. Mister D Member
    Mister D
    @MisterD

    I’m more or less with you Claire. I took a long time off from the news, and even now don’t roll my sleeves up the way I used to. I still know what’s going on. If there is an important story out there, it will make its way to my ears, and I will be able to quickly and easily check it out. Really most of what counts as news today is just the rehashing of the last big story for days on end until the next big one breaks (at which point we drop the last one completely).

    • #49
  20. T-Fiks Member
    T-Fiks
    @TFiks

    Just before I clicked on this post I was listening to talk radio and thinking to myself how unhappy it was making me feel. Talk radio and most conservative web sites seem to feed the sense of despair over the shallow self-interest that characterizes the people who do have the power to influence society and the utter cluelessness of the sheep whom they influence.

    I don’t think this growing contempt for my fellow man is healthy.

    • #50
  21. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    “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.”

    Ms. Berlinsky, what a lovely thing to say.  The paragraph of  yours above has brightened my day.  I must admit that remembering the misery of Carter, I had always thought that we would never live through that level of foolishness again.  BHO came as a great shock to my system.  In 2010 I reacted with my old weapons.  I worked on Allen West’s congressional campaign and hit Facebook hard.  The stress of my old weapons bogged down as the ever manipulative army of the stupid kept advancing anyway.  I hoped for relief 2012.  It was so close I could taste it.   When it too eluded us I was physically sickened.

    Something, however, has happened since the 2012 debacle.  I began to realize that the old Jewish point of view that Gd tests us is what this all must be about.  I wasn’t raised religiously so this was a new way for me to approach the problem.  I realized that enduring BHO for 8 years was the test.

    I must engage and not be exhausted.  I must combat but not be consumed by rage.  I must dig deeper than ever before to find fundamental answers.  I am required to overcome this.

    Welcome back to the fight.  This time I know our side will win.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #51
  22. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    T-Fiks:.I don’t think this growing contempt for my fellow man is healthy.

    This comment jumped out at me. Yes. The Internet has come to seem like a close encounter with the collective Id of my fellow man, and the abiding feeling I’ve had in response to it has been a growing contempt, a bitter disgust. And this, surely, surely, isn’t healthy. I do think it’s important actively to cultivate respect and kindness in ourselves, as habits of mind. They don’t happen by themselves, or at least they don’t in my case. And watching what appears to be humans behaving like zoo animals all day (minus the whimsical charm or the savage nobility of those animals) doesn’t cultivate that. Through the filter of the news media and the Internet, humanity seems loathsome, obnoxious, childish and evil. I don’t feel that way about people I see and otherwise encounter in real life. At all.

    • #52
  23. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Claire Berlinski:

    T-Fiks:.I don’t think this growing contempt for my fellow man is healthy.

    This comment jumped out at me. Yes. The Internet has come to seem like a close encounter with the collective Id of my fellow man, and the abiding feeling I’ve had in response to it has been a growing contempt, a bitter disgust. And this, surely, surely, isn’t healthy. I do think it’s important actively to cultivate respect and kindness in ourselves, as habits of mind. They don’t happen by themselves, or at least they don’t in my case. And watching what appears to be humans behaving like zoo animals all day (minus the whimsical charm or the savage nobility of those animals) doesn’t cultivate that. Through the filter of the news media and the Internet, humanity seems loathsome, obnoxious, childish and evil. I don’t feel that way about people I see and otherwise encounter in real life. At all.

    The majority of the reasons I’ve left all social media but Ricochet behind are essentially this. I let my feelings about others be based on thinking the worst rather than the best of them. I <a href=”http://biblehub.com/matthew/15-11.htm”>let my mouth defile me</a> too often to count. I found myself struggling to look the guy in the mirror in the eye, and trying to envision myself as the son my parents raised induced cringing at best,  most often nausea, and sometimes active disgust. My devout Lutheran elementary educator parents, who opened our home to newly-moved-to-town art teachers and Vietnamese boat refugee families, love people, unreservedly, and are among the finest people I’ve ever met. I would like for my life—interior as much as exterior—not to shame their good name.

    This is a lot easier among people you know at least passingly well, so you hope to have enough excuses to think better of them than they strictly deserve. The spirit of the law rather than the letter, and all that. I do also think, very strongly, that looking after one’s self—and no, that’s not an invitation to narcissism—is crucial if one is to be of service to others. Put the air mask on yourself before assisting others.

    tl;dr A healthy withdrawal from society is healthy.

    • #53
  24. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    A sensible comment, GG. Something about social media leaves me thinking, “You idiot” about ten times a minute. It is not good to have that thought, that often, about other human beings. I suspect that spending too much time with that kind of thought in one’s head has an ultimately destructive effect on one’s character. We are supposed to love one another, and if it’s fairly obvious that Activity X results more often in not in feelings of hatred, contempt and disgust for others, it’s probably a good idea to cut down on Activity X. (I suspect working in A&E, as a homicide detective or as a prison guard also leads to these feelings, but these are things that obviously do need to be done. That can’t be said for scrolling down one’s Facebook page ten times a day.)

    • #54
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