Is this good for us? Research by Bruno Frey has suggested not. He shows that many people who watch lots of TV report lower subjective well-being. One reason for this is that TV raises our material aspirations and so increases our discontent.
This hints at a worrying possibility. Maybe people lack self-control, or are unable to predict well how activities will change their tastes. If so, people aren’t the best judges of their own well-being. And if this is true even of mundane, everyday things like TV, how much more likely to be true is it in less familiar contexts? Which suggests a case for some kind of paternalism.
However, a new paper (pdf) by Mitesh Kataria and Tobias Regner show that this view might be too hasty. They show that the relationship between TV viewing and happiness varies enormously from nation to nation. For example, in Germany, Australia, Finland and the US (to a lesser extent) people who watch no TV are happier than those who watch more than three hours a day. But the opposite is true for Spain, Norway and Sweden (their data doesn’t cover the UK).
This suggests we just can’t generalize whether TV is good for us or not.
The trivial implication here is that it depends what’s on TV.
But there’s a less trivial implication. This is that happiness research is not (yet) a settled field. It’s findings are subject to legitimate dispute. Might there be a danger that everyone - paternalists or not - are too hasty to find what they want in it?