Binge-watching seems to be the inevitable trend in TV-watching behavior. As platforms and channels like Netflix, Hulu and HBO make entire seasons of our favorite shows available for streaming all at once, it is becoming more common for people to watch two to six episodes at a time. In fact, almost 700,000 Netflix subscribers watched the entire 11-hour second season of House of Cards in one weekend.
In general, common sense tells us that this trend is terrible for our mental health. Sedentary, passive activities like TV-watching are often associated with loneliness and depression. However, according to studies done by experts, if we are mindful of what we are watching and with whom, this behavior can actually benefit us as a positive experience and can even help us to improve our relationships.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses the psychology of optimal experience in his book Flow. In his research, he found that the reason watching TV does not make us any happier is because it is too passive. The kinds of activities that bring us joy are usually ones in which our mind is more involved like playing games or enjoying time doing our favorite hobbies. When our mind is active, time passes more easily and happily for us.
In the case of TV shows, they can actually be quite enjoyable if our mind is actively engaged in the plot. Shows that we are really “into” make us think and guess, and it is almost like a game in our mind as we watch them. We come to know and love the characters; we understand them and have an entire experience watching the show, much like we would if we were reading a book.
Watching TV shows with someone can also be great for your relationship with that person. It becomes almost like binge-bonding when the show creates conversation between the two of you. Michale T. Montley explains that people as social beings have a natural need to compare their relationship to others. This can be done with fictional characters as well, and in a positive way. It is a great way of spending quality time together and, when approached mindfully, can make you feel much closer.
Binge-watching shows together is also a way of escaping reality for a little while. Watching comedies allows you to have a good laugh and release some endorphins together, while dramas are exciting and add some suspense and action to the session. You can discover what your partner enjoys and it helps you get to know them a little better.
When it comes to health, watching TV is typically not considered as the healthiest option. However, it can actually be a refuge from our busy lives. It gives us the opportunity to stay in and slow down for a change. Watching your favorite show, or starting a new show, is a viable alternative to going out and drinking too much, for instance. As long as it is not done for such extended periods of time that you literally become vegetative, it can be a nice way to take it easy.
Although binge-watching should be approached carefully and with a level of moderation, studies show there are aspects of it that are actually beneficial to our mental health. As this trend continues, keep in mind the ways in which you can indulge every once in a while in a positive way. Make sure it’s engaging content that you watch actively, and try to watch with a friend or loved one to see that it can actually be enriching and great fun.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.
Motley, Michael T. Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication. Los Angeles: Sage, 2008. Print.
TVLine. “Report: 2% of Netflix Users Binged All of House of Cards Season 2 ASAP — Are You Done Yet?” TVLine Report 2 of Netflix Users Binged All of House of Cards Season 2 ASAP Are You Done Yet Comments. N.p., 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.