Why hours of binge watching is good for your relationship

The ultimate moment of relaxation for half of the Netherlands: crawling behind a screen in the evening and binge-watching until we weigh ourselves. It makes us happy.

You’ve been to work, run errands, devoured your meal, and maybe even put a kid or two to bed. And then the moment you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. In your onesie, you lie down on the sofa with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and your hand goes to the remote control or your laptop. All the hustle and bustle of the day fades away as you become engrossed in the world in front of you. You devour croissants and men with Emily in Paris, fight June The Handmaid’s Tales for your freedom and steam off with Ingrid Partner Track through to the top of the law firm (and is annoyed that there isn’t a second season). A deep bow for Netflix, Videoland, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime or just good old NPO. You needed this. Even after a night out, by the way, just to clear your head before going to bed.

Millions of Dutch people spend their evenings this way. And many people like it. Because let’s face it: you won’t hear many people say how good it is for you to stare at a screen. Well, British psychologist and researcher Claudia Hammond thinks otherwise. Together with a team of experts, she participated in the Rest Test, a large-scale survey of the most relaxing activities of eighteen thousand people from 135 countries, which resulted in a top ten. She discusses the findings in her book Peace. The psychology of relaxing and recovering in the modern world. Reading is number one, watching TV is number nine. The reason? There are few activities that require so little effort both physically and mentally. Hammond calls it “in many ways even the perfect form of rest.” In fact, she believes that watching TV only landed at number nine because of its bad image. In fact, in this busy society, we should celebrate any activity that allows us to finally relax.

Blurred state of stupidity
Mind you, we spend hours behind the tube and in all sorts of fantasy worlds. Especially when the real world gives enough reason to want to escape from it, the wonderful escapism is the best thing about watching series and movies. Futurist Jeanneke Scholtens has written the book Poisoning about everything that gives us pleasure and sees watching a TV show, a movie or a series as an escapist ‘solo route’. ‘Just like you drink a glass of wine or take a bath at the end of a long day, we also settle down: me time. Finally. It’s like a daze of numbness and relaxation for you alone: ​​shoulders down, head in a foggy state of stupidity because you really don’t need to pay attention. Watching TV is the valve on the pressure cooker that is your head.’ Hammond also cites studies that show most people watch something to forget their problems. The more stress they experienced, the more they could appreciate the escapist aspect of the screen. But according to Scholtens, ‘turning yourself off’ is not its only function. ‘Some people use series just to turn themselves on. Pain, horror and anger are also sources of pleasure for many people. So it can also provide an adrenaline rush for people who swear by scary scenes. When it’s over, your brain releases serotonin and dopamine to calm you down.’

Or we shudder at Dahmer or laugh at the sarcasm of the monster hunt Wednesday in the series of the same name: for a moment we believe that what we see is real. Scholtens: ‘That’s what we call it willing suspension of disbelief. We create a temporary vacuum where we know what we see is not real, but during the hours we monitor, we allow the world to be real. Then we step out again, but that opportunity for escapism, to enter a world full of magic like i Harry Potter or power as in House of cards it is fantastic. If it’s not intoxication…”

Hours of binge watching are good for something else: escaping all kinds of painful emotions. Certainly not the best solution from a psychological point of view, but you have to deal with the long waiting lists in psychiatry. In addition, it gives lonely people a sense of community, according to Scholtens. ‘Many people turn on the television as something to hold on to. It gives them a feeling of coming home. Or an hour Coffee break or Friends see if they have the news on in the background: they see the people on TV every day, they fill their living room with voices and fun, and you almost think you know them. Television gives the lonely a sense of belonging, it is a social surrogate. We empathize with characters in series, mirror ourselves and are genuinely disappointed when a series ends. Suddenly you are no longer part of that world.’

Light switch
Surprisingly, according to Hammond, the real binge watchers are the elderly. Partly because the television in many nursing homes is on all day. Although unfortunately for these seniors it is not necessarily a treat or luxury because sometimes it is the only distraction they have. And we can learn something from that – to be party poker for a while. That is, watching TV – or any screen for that matter – is best done in moderation. Hammond concluded that more than five hours is bad for most people. Those hours often generate few memories as well, making us feel like our lives are passing us by. Although describing it as ‘mind numbing’ is going too far. For example, a recent study of American students shows that binge-watching does not make them dull at all, but that they are involved with the characters and are still involved in deep decisions about what they have watched after watching. So they are more than just ‘entertained’ by the hours behind the tube, laptop, tablet or mobile.

Anyway, ‘sitting is the new smoking’ and so it can be just as important to regularly shout ‘get off that couch’ to yourself or your spouse. But funnily enough, the bad image of watching TV also plays a role here. Because ‘have you already sat on the sofa for five hours and read a good book?!’ said no one, ever. Why is reading seen by so many as a good way to spend their time? Assistant Professor Cassie Holmes does so in her book The time of your life a throw. In her research into the best way to spend your time, she came to the conclusion that we enjoy the most activities that bring us joy and satisfaction. In other words: we often enjoy watching a series, but it is rarely satisfying – with the exception of the few series that are true works of cinematic art.

Not that anyone needs it, but another reason to turn on that screen is that it’s good for your relationship to watch together. Not only because a serious dose of Netflix & Chill can take place (it might just depend on how exciting the series is), but also because, according to Psychology magazine that can make butterflies in the stomach flutter nicely again. At least if you choose a film or series ‘that makes you laugh together, is moved by or makes you cry’. This creates ‘biological synchronicity’ where ‘the physiological responses associated with emotion, such as changes in heart rate or respiration, become synchronized’. And it apparently improves a relationship. Just like watching a series or movie together about love problems (hint: Marriage story), according to the same article, can save you a lot of therapy expenses, because you can subsequently be inspired to talk about it together. Many people also appreciate watching with someone other than a romantic partner.

You don’t have to exert yourself and you don’t have to keep a conversation going, making this the ultimate way to relax together for many people. In fact, Hammond cites a study showing that people even enjoy watching TV in the company of others. And… those binging solo all too often know how to find Twitter or Whatsapp to vent their unsalted opinion somewhere.

But to be fair: it also makes us more antisocial. What about that?

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