Why the News Can’t Make Us Happy
Many of us have a disconnect in our lives: we claim to seek happiness, but we can’t stop looking at the last thing that will make us happy — the news, especially the bad news.
One argument for watching negative news is that if we see bad things happen to other people, it’ll make us feel better about our own lives. Another argument is that we want to feel important and connected, and being engaged with current events helps reduce our sense of isolation.
Also, if you believe passionately in a cause, such as abortion rights, climate change or the wellbeing of Israel, watching the news keeps you involved with the things you care most about.
If you’re a right-winger who watches Fox News or a left-winger who watches MSNBC, the news will give you temporary satisfaction, like a favorite flavor of ice cream. But that’s a sugar high, not happiness.
But regardless of why we watch the news, the conclusion is the same — it doesn’t do much for our happiness. If you’re a right-winger who watches Fox News or a left-winger who watches MSNBC, the news will give you temporary satisfaction, like a favorite flavor of ice cream. But that’s a sugar high, not happiness.
More often than not, instead of making us happy the news riles us up. Big tech giants like Facebook and Google have figured out that the more outrage they feed us, the longer we’ll be engaged, and the more advertising they’ll sell.
Watching the news also feeds our need for belonging. In the same way that I’m a diehard Lakers fan, loyal Democrats or Republicans enjoy belonging to their respective teams, especially if they support their values. The snarky sword fights between the two camps on social media only add drama and excitement to this tribal impulse.
But they don’t add happiness.
For that, we have to borrow from a whole other tribe — the artist tribe.
Have you noticed how artists are rarely obsessed with the news? Most artists share this one empowering trait: they seek their happiness not from exterior events but from their own actions. We can all become artists of our lives.
Have you noticed how artists are rarely obsessed with the news? Whether they’re musicians, filmmakers, painters, comedians, writers, etc., artists are generally obsessed with their art. Most artists share this one empowering trait: they seek their happiness not from exterior events but from their own actions. For an artist who can create a great painting in a few hours, an activity like watching the news feels like a waste of time. They know how much more joy and fulfillment they’ll get from working on their art.
I felt that vibe the other night at the Israel Film Festival. The writers, producers and actors whom I met were all swimming in the same bubble — their art. That’s what turned them on. What’s going on in the outside world matters less than what’s going on in their world. They’d rather make news than watch it.
I say this ironically as someone whose life revolves around the news. Because of my profession, I don’t just follow the news — I live in it. It’s my obligation to deliver it fairly and accurately, and publish thoughtful commentary and analyses. The part of the business that does bring me happiness is when I feel I’ve written something that readers enjoy — again, because it comes from a personal action.
We all have access to that happiness.
In the same way that artists focus on their own actions for fulfilment, we can become artists of our own lives. What actions bring you joy? Is it a simple coffee with a friend, something you create in a studio or a kitchen, smelling the fresh dew on a morning hike, visiting a grandparent, planting a garden, assisting the needy, writing a poem, attending or teaching a class, discovering a new book or film, reading with your kid, singing at a Shabbat table?
None of those things have anything to do with the news. They have nothing to do with who you’ll vote for in November or what the Supreme Court will decide or who will win the war in Ukraine or whether the Iran deal will go through. As crucial as all those issues are, it is what’s going on in our own little worlds that has the most impact on our happiness. Politicians know that, which may be why they keep promising the moon, even if they can’t deliver.
We all have our reasons to watch the news and stay engaged with the big issues of our time. But as we continue to do that, let’s remember that is not where we will find our true happiness.