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Shifting Gears / Discovering that, sometimes, no news is good news

Published 6:06 am, Thursday, January 23, 2014
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Well, it seems I have done a research experiment. It wasn't my intent. And it was quite puny -- with just one subject. Needless to say, that one was me. There was no hypothesis, just an after-the-fact observation. It should be replicated. You could do that. No statistics were needed; though if enough of you joined in, they might be.

So, here's what happened. For years, I have had, not an addiction, but a habit. Probably, lots of you have the same or similar habit. It didn't seem a bad habit. In fact, it could be considered even laudable. Some people might say such a habit is necessary for a nation such as ours to function well. And that might be true. However, what I discovered is that what is good for a country might not, necessarily, be good for its individual members. But, that's another discussion and, perhaps, another study.

The habit in question crept up on me, as I think habits do, innocently enough. After my daughter went off to college and I began working a little bit later into the evening, I would come home, sit down to my dinner and enjoy what I thought was good company -- the TV news. Now, this was not the hysterical, yelling news of foxes, not even the chummy, inane, chatty news. It was public television news, for goodness sake. Later, I added discussions with Charlie Rose, Frontline, various evolving Bill Moyers conversations. At some point, I was able to record them for use whenever I chose. I suspect you might be thinking, "What's wrong with all that?" or "You should have opted for the yelling foxes."

It gets worse. As my work hours shifted evening-ward, I had more leisurely mornings. I stopped waking up to the alarm and, instead, discovered NPR. So, with a cup of tea, I would listen to, you got it, the news. And then, I got my first iPhone. I subscribed to the "New York Times" on-line. As the news began repeating on the radio, I would click on my phone, tap my app, and an enormous menu of news options awaited me. I could read the news of the world, of D.C. and the rest of the nation, but mostly D.C. I could even read opinions about all this news of the world, the nation and D.C. And if you don't already know, it is not a pretty picture.

Several months ago, I noticed that I was getting tired at night before the news had hardly begun. I started going to bed earlier. Life had lost a certain "joie de vie." I was not such a happy camper. Then, by chance, I discovered the world of British television drama -- series offered by Netflix that I could portion out or double up on. Downton Abbey, Foyle's War, the Forsyth Saga, and oh, so much more. Immanently polite people, life dramas we could all identify with, passion played out with subtlety enough to remain beautiful, characters with believable and understandable complexity, kitchens and countryside as poignant as a painting.

I know that fighting continues in Syria and that no one knows what to do to stop it. I know that another suicide bomber has detonated herself and killed a dozen others in Afghanistan. I know that the NSA is spying on everyone. I know that Congress continues to be dysfunctional. I know that there is an obscene amount of income inequality in the world. It's the same this week as last week and the months before. I know all of this is true.

I also, know that it is lovely to slip into another world, another time, where fictional characters seem truer and finer than any real person on the news. I go to bed now, not because I am too tired to stay awake, but because it's time. I drink my morning tea with a novel and a quick look at the news and my e-mail. I feel better. I think happier thoughts.

So, the finding of my research study is that what I feed my brain has an amazing impact on my overall sense of well-being, in fairly short-order, too. I realize this is almost stating the obvious. Nevertheless, sometime we need a reminder. If the world is too much with you, find another, more gracious one to slip into in your leisure. Take note of the results.

Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at: shiftinggears.swenson@gmail.com.