News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier

Rolf Dobelli, author of the forthcoming book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, has an essay in the Guardian that explains the many reasons why you shouldn't read, listen to, or watch news. I don't agree with everything he says, but I found it thought-provoking.

News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitization.

News makes us passive. News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. The daily repetition of news about things we can't act upon makes us passive. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. The scientific term is "learned helplessness". It's a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption, at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression.

News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier


  1. A bit of trivia from a few years back:  Scientists discovered that people who read the comics first outlive people who read the front page.

    1. The newspaper in the closest city to me got rid of their colour comics page and reduced the number of B&W comics to a very small number. Maybe they’re trying to kill off their remaining readers.

  2. I always wondered if the rest of the band had to talk Michael Stipe out of singing “idiots” instead of “people.”

  3. What if you take Soma while you watch?

    Really though the news is chalked full of sensationalist out-of-context garbage and most people react very emotionally.   We would all probably live longer if news programing wasn’t fighting for ratings and folks learned a little perspective.

    Every war needs a 9/11.   Every gun law needs a school shooting.  Everything is a Shock Doctrine.

  4. News is designed to SELL.  That’s it.  Priority list goes like this:
    1. SELL

    1. If those are the priorities of your news, you’re lucky. Most of it is designed to sell a viewpoint, and it makes it much more distorting than pure sensationalism would.

  5. I’ve taken to reverse-engineering all my news from Daily Mash articles and my friends’ terrible crack on social networks. I’m definitely happier.

  6. It will also make the bankers robbing your country happier. It will also make the politicians lying their way into wars and insisting your taxes must go up and services must go down happier.

    The problem is not the news; the problem is the world the news is about. Ignorance may be bliss, but it doesn’t improve anything.

    1. “The World”, as presented by the news media, is a cherry-picked affair.  If I thought the entiriety of this planet and everything it has to offer was represented in ‘the news’, it would be perfectly sane and reasonable for all of us to either kill ourselves immediately, or spend the remainder of our miserable existences holed up in bomb shelters.

      I cancelled our subscription to the Denver Post two years ago.  Three months after the subscription lapsed, they were still calling the house begging us to take them back.  ‘Is it the price?  Because if it is, we’ll give it to you for free!!!!’  We cancelled because when the paper arrived every Sunday morning, it took us less than half an hour to glean the information we might be interested in, and that included 15 minutes to skim the unfunny funnies hoping for a giggle. 

      At the same time, we also cancelled our satellite dish.  Pulling our lips off the news nipple does not equate wrapping oneself in the thick cotton batting of blissful ignorance.  There are seven computers in this house; six of them are portable.  We became more selective about how much time we were willing to ‘waste’ on giving our attention to events that had nothing to do with us and in which our input would change nothing.  In the last two years we’ve saved around $3K and not a single lightening bolt has struck the house, no one has died, been excommunicated, or experienced catastrophe or even an unusual run of bad luck.  All is well in as much of world as we care to care about.

      1.  Your method certainly has its appeal. I for one, haven’t had a TV in well over 6 or 7 years. But what I worry about is the total fracturing of news, no matter where you get it from. It seems horribly easy to tailor your news to what you already expect in the first place, much more so that it was as I was growing up. Then, there were the op-eds in paper and a fairly clearly define opinion section on TV and the news was, well, just the news. I realize this is totally simplistic, but I do find it pleasant to have a local rag (Austin Chronicle) that goes far out of there way to do in depth local news. Of course, politically they bend rather far to the left, but you feel you can trust them for just straight forward news, local or not. Honestly, I TOTALLY blame ABC for making TV news a paying concern. Before that the broadcasters all considered the news department something of a loss leader, something that was not actually going to make any money, something that they could point to and say with some pride, “See! At least we do THAT fairly well. Sorry about My Mother the Car, tho.”

    2. There is a difference between being educated and watching the 24/7 news cycle.  The 24/7 news cycle is worthless crap with no redeeming qualities.  Literally nothing  you will learn is of any positive value.  In fact, when people watch the news the most is when its value plummets further.  Panicked morons who would have been better off not watching the news let shit like the PATRIOT act get passed.

      Ignoring the 24/7 news cycle doesn’t suddenly mean you stop learning about important events in the world.  It just means that you turn to other sources and take a slower more thoughtful approach to learning.  Read a fucking book.  Long form journalism can still be on the plate, as can thoughtful blogs.  If you have a favorite organization that you trust to send up real red alerts, read their stuff.  I personally happily read EFF news and e-mail.

      Just toss out the 24/7 news cycle nuts.  They are worse than worthless, unless you think TERROR IN THE STREETS OF BOSTON is anything other than utterly useless… and I say this as someone who lives and plays in Boston.

    3. I know more about any of those things than folks who get ‘informed’ by TV news, I put it to you.

  7. When the ‘real’ news gets me down, I jump over to Yahoo’s homepage, which features 90% meaningless gossip about celebrities. 

  8. Yeah this seems like a bad idea. Maybe we’d be happier if we all actually got off our collective butts and took action such that the news wasn’t such a horrifying read. Becoming less informed might make us happier in the short term but it seems a surefire way to ensure the world gets shittier in the long term, too.

      1. Unfortunately, Nick was selectively informed on this issue and didn’t get the whole picture.

        (And, yes… I’m agreeing with both of you by saying this)

  9. Ugh, it’s so true. The internet-enabled firehose of news messes us up in so many ways. People should really stop spending so much time and energy on it.

    Oh, hey, BoingBoing just updated!

  10. I was a personal trainer some years ago and one client was a very successful multi-millionaire. I once asked him what his secret to success was. His reply: “I never watch, read or listen to the news. Its negativity will overwhelm you.”

  11. There’s really something to this: back around 2004 I was a super-news-junkie, particularly with the advent of good journalistic blogs, and was probably consuming a small book’s worth of news every day, particularly after the horrific slow-motion catastrophe that was the run-up to the Iraq war.

    Thing was, there was plenty going wrong in my life too, but I was utterly overwhelmed and miserable, and I realized that the misery was driven by my impotence.  I’d voted, I’d signed petitions, I’d written letters, but the tide of history was against me.

    I cut everything out, worried only about the things I could personally directly affect (including, of course, keeping a general tab on world events — a couple of times a week is more than enough!) and voting, but no longer pretending that if I tried hard enough I could shift the levers of power measurably, even in my community.

    My life improved radically and the rest of the world gets better and worse on the macro scale the same as it always has.

  12. I’m always surprised that my wife reacts emotionally to the news.  I don’t have that reaction.   It’s like a drama on a screen or like an unfolding movie – I see the content, but I always see the frame too. It’s always worth watching, but  I don’t ever have the sense that it is real.  It’s just interesting to see what happens and how it is portrayed.   Sometimes local news from the few blocks around my house takes on a different color.  But stuff that happens in downtown, 5 miles away?   Or in Washington DC, 3000 miles away?   I honestly don’t take that as real or as something requiring an emotional response from me.   Intellectually I presume that it has reference to real events, but it doesn’t affect me emotionaly at all.  

    I absorb NYT, WashPost, NPR/Public broadcasting, Guardian, Slate, Salon…. typical highbrow news, plus the local city (statewide) newspaper with a few low sources like Wonkette, RawStory, HuffPo, etc., plus a local neighborhood rag. If this article is referring to Local TV News, I suppose I’d have to agree… that’s a sewer, but my objection there is to the stupidity as much as the alarmism – it just isn’t interesting enough to pay attention too. Don’t watch commercial TV so I don’t know what that is about anymore.

  13. I cut down on my news consumption over the past 2 years, and I’ve felt increasingly better, and more in control of my life.

      1. Agreed.  Cable “news” is a toxic waste of time. On occasion I’ll watch clips of it via the internet, but to just sit there and watch it via TV makes me feel like I’m dumbing down.

  14. What’s worse than event news is celebrity news. Sure, if you follow how good actors, sports players, musicians, etc. are in their field then that may enhance you appreciation of their new performances. But most celebrity news focuses on their >b>personal lives and provides the audience an intimacy that gives them fantasy friends and acquaintances that they have no chance of interacting with or affecting their real life – and interacting is the real reason to have friends in the first place.

    One might argue that celebrities give people positive or negative role models. but organizing one’s life based on fantasies is not a good way to operate in the real world.

    1. I started reading the Daily Mail mostly just to see what Princess Beatrice had on her head every day.

    2. No… event news is far worse than celebrity news.  I personally don’t understand the joy of celebrity news.  It seems mind numbingly boring and stupid.  That said, it isn’t doing anything more harmful than wasting the time of people that were probably going to waste it on something stupid anyways.  I mean, if celebrity news is in the #1 spot for entertainment, I am going to go head and #2 and #3 on the list of ways to entertain yourself are probably not so hot either.  So someone is entertaining themselves in a boring and stupid way, not my choice, but not harmful.  I am sure people feel the same about some of my entertainment options.

      Event news is different.  Sure, it entertains, but it also gives you a delusional world perspective.  For example, a minor to mid sized local tragedy in Boston suddenly becomes TERROR IN THE STREETS for the entire country.  Now you have stupid Americans terrified of the terrorist killing them as they, oblivious to the irony, pound down a 64 oz soda and polish off a bag of potato chips.  They mew at their politicians and we get another three letter government agency that eats tax money like an Americans clutching a big gulp that is devoted to fucking over our liberty to stop the oh-so-scary terrorist.

      Even when event news isn’t effecting negative political change, it is making people unhappy by scaring them over stupid shit.  Ask most 40 somethings that religiously watch cable news if crime and other such dangers have  gone up or down in the past couple of decades.  They will unflinchingly tell you the world is a more dangerous place, more people die in ‘merica then ever before, and they they are right for being scared.  Give them proof that crime and murder rates of tanked, and they will, with epic cognitive dissidence deny facts in front of their face.

      The consequence of celebrity news is time wasted.  The the frantic and mindless 24/7 “event” news on the other hand causes people acting stupid in mass, and thus is clearly the more evil of the two.

      1. You neglect the problem that event news is increasingly often framed as celebrity news.

        Sure I’m aghast that people were killed and wounded in the Boston bombs but the news has an insidious tendency to turn victims into celebrities giving personal details of their nice lives so that an audience can “connect with them” and become afraid of threats to their nice lives.

        The Boston bombs were horrible regardless if the victims were saints or sinners. Personal info on the victims only celebritizes them for fear without giving any insight into what happened.

  15. News doesn’t bother me any more – it just washes over. The serenity to accept what you can’t change, etc. And Florida Man is always good for a laugh. On the other hand I’m not silly enough to watch cable/network news either.

    The people who really need to be kept away from it are parents. The whole thing is designed as a ‘YOUR CHILDREN ARE IN CONSTANT DANGER’, since, well, that’s the strongest possible trigger, and they seem to lap it up. Mothers in particular, though maybe they’re just more vocal about it.

    Then there’s conservatives, who are naturally fearful, so it’s like gas on fire, as designed (FOX).

  16. Writer could have saved a lot of time by simply saying “Ignorance is bliss.” and be done with it.

    Sheep are happy and easily led.

  17. Yep “Ignorance is bliss.”  Also, it’s asking us to trust the news when it tells you not to read the news… ?

  18. You don’t magically “stop being informed” if you stop reading the news as long as you take ownership over where you do get your information about the world.  News outlets are a selective filter — they don’t tell you what’s actually going on, they create a certain image of what’s going on that may or may not have much to do with reality.  In the US, certainly, this image is in many ways more lurid and fear-inducing than the reality and in other ways sanitized of the great many lurid, fear-inducing realities that we should be facing up to.

    The news suggests you should be scared of X…but you really shouldn’t be scared of X, you should be scared of Y.  The news doesn’t even mention Y.

    I think the best method for staying informed is to scan headlines occasionally and listen to word-of-mouth from friends, acquaintances, neighbors, etc. but to actually dig in and do some research rather than trusting anyone else’s presentation of information.  Don’t let the NYT, the Washington Post, or anyone else spoon-feed you what you’re supposed to believe about the world.  Frankly if you rely on news media for your information you were never “informed” and the first place and probably never will be.

    A lot of people are saying “ignorance is bliss” as though it’s some kind of argument. Maybe ignorance isn’t so good but it’s at least a little better than being actively misinformed which is all you get by counting on news media for information.

  19. Umberto Eco hit upon this (in the updated version of “Travels In Hyper-Reality”?  Not sure if it was the anthology or one of his other essays regarding print journalism).  

    The disneyfication of news reporting produces provocative infobits that require further attention.  

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