If you spend more than 30 minutes a day consuming news I want to convince you to cut down your news consumption.
I’ll start by asking and answering (for myself) three questions.
- What is the purpose of your life?
- Would you like to be happier?
- Do you like repetitive stress injuries?
Here are my answers.
What is the purpose of your life?
The purpose of my life and, I think, the purpose of everyone’s life, is to bring as much love and joy into the world as possible and to take care of myself and the people around me.
(It’s not, by the way, to survive no matter what. That used to be our purpose when we were being hunted by saber-tooth tigers and cave bears but now it’s really a silly goal. I’ll break this down in a future post).
Being informed about the world serves that purpose but on a typical day, it takes just a few minutes to get the information you need to go through life effectively and do what you need to do.
Spending more time digging into the news takes time away from your life’s purpose (unless reading the news is your life’s purpose, in which case you can go ahead and stop paying attention to this). It also can weaken your ability to care for yourself and others.
That brings me to the next question.
Would you like to be happier?
The news is bad. What I mean is that 90 percent or more of the news is bad because news is a money-making business based on audience size and we have been trained by evolution to pay attention to possible threats and ignore things that are not threatening. Bad news attracts more eyeballs in the same way that a lion walking on the Serengeti gets more attention from the herds of potential prey animals than a cute baby wildebeest (is there such a thing?) does. The news media has learned this and delivers what attracts people’s attention. If it bleeds, it leads.
Spending more than a few minutes a day finding out what happened in the world really means exposing yourself to bad, scary stuff for longer than is necessary. This will make you more unhappy, mostly about things you have no power over, and impact your ability to take care of yourself and others.
Additionally, the news is made up of two levels. There’s the factual layer and then the analysis. The amount of factual news that is important to know about for most people can be covered in a few minutes a day or even less. My definition of what’s important is based on what you need to know to take care of yourself and others and what is useful to you. In other words what you can do something about. I often go back to the ultimate litmus test of the Serenity Prayer.
Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
Immersing yourself in a whirlpool of information about things you cannot change is contra-indicated if you want to maintain some level of Serenity.
And continuing to dive into the news means you get past the facts into analysis and that way lies madness (or at least angry-ness).
That leads to the last question.
Do you like repetitive stress injuries?
A repetitive stress injury happens when you do something, like typing or hitting a tennis ball, over and over again. When you expose yourself to outrage and fear you stress your body and your mind. We are designed to deal with scary situations as if our lives depended on it because it used to. Now it doesn’t. That White House press conference isn’t going to kill us and eat us but our bodies don’t know that. When we read or watch something that causes anxiety or anger our bodies are flushed with flight or fight hormones which, over the long term, cause lasting damage.
Back in the old days we’d avoid the cave bear or get a bunch of people together and kill it. Then we’d relax and have a chance to repair the damage. Now we read about a cave bear and then click on another story of a cave bear and get shown a list of headlines of cave bear rumors and saber tooth tiger sightings. Most of these stories have very little impact on us but we HAVE TO READ THEM because the modern design of news is aimed directly at the scared caveman that lives in each of us. Once we are properly frightened, we get into the analysis layer which consists of pundits whose job it is to upset you.
Let me say this again because it is obviously true but not said enough.
Pundits are paid to upset you.
If Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter or Laurence O’Donnell or Sean Hannity pisses you off, they have succeeded. That’s their job. They are not there to deliver information. That’s the job of News Anchors most of the time. 90 percent of the “news” is actually outraged opinion presented in the same format as informational news in the same channels.
So if you want to stop damaging yourself and be happier and more purposeful and more able to take care of yourself and others, spend less time consuming news.
Use the extra time to meditate or sleep or exercise or call a friend or write a novel.