Dig out your Friends box set – entering familiar fictional worlds can boost your happiness levels and make you feel more in control
For those of us who have cancelled a social engagement in order to rewatch the entire series of The Comeback, or whose party trick is to do a move-for-move replay of the Ross-Monica “routine” in Friends, there is hope. A new study finds that watching repeats of our favourite TV shows can actually help us feel more in control and happier.
Research from the University of Buffalo builds on the theory that, after periods of self-discipline, a person is more likely to give in to temptation later on. The thinking goes: “I had a salad for lunch, therefore I’m going to have a pizza lightly sprinkled with a large bag of chips for dinner.” In order to avoid this and to replenish our sense of self-control we need to boost our happiness levels, which is where rewatching much-loved TV shows comes in. Psychologist Dr Jaye Derrick calls this effect “social surrogacy”, likening our old TV pals to a virtual friends and family. In experiments involving essay writing and word association, people found it easier to maintain their self-control and concentration if they had also been asked to describe a favourite television show. Others kept diaries to find out how entering “familiar fictional worlds” improved their mood. “[TV] can have unexpected psychological benefits,” writes Derrick, “[and] fulfil needs that people are reluctant to fulfil through other means.”
Which is fine, unless you happen to be reacquainting yourself with the devastating final episodes of Six Feet Under, M*A*S*H or The Wonder Years. In that case, you may want to add “large tub of ice cream” and “family size box of tissues” to your pizza’n’chips shopping list.
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