We all watch them: trashy TV shows. Whether it’s your gal-pal get together time or your secretive solo guilty pleasure; we really enjoy watching awful shows.
We also end up guilt-tripping ourselves about it.
Watching these shows can’t possibly be a productive use of time — shouldn’t we be reading a book or two instead?
Surprisingly, there are real health benefits to this so-called frivolous pastime. So next time you want to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Bachelor, or good old Real Housewives, remind yourself that you are indulging in real self-care.
Why we love them
Let’s face it: our lives aren’t half as dramatic as the characters on a trashy TV show. Watching unrealistic events unfold is the closest we’re going to get to live their lives. That’s part of the reason why they’re so addictive; we identify with the characters on some level and then get invested. That’s why we always want to find out what happens next.
There’s some kind of sick pleasure we get from watching shit hit the ceiling. It’s a huge disaster, but we can’t unpeel our eyes from the screen. It’s like when you’re driving and see a car accident on the side of the road and can’t help but slow down and stare.
No, we’re not getting into a political ideology. When you find out about a show that’s getting insanely popular to the point where you can’t stop seeing memes about it on your phone, you have to find out what the fuss is all about.
And whether you love it or love to hate on it, it’s reassuring to be part of the mainstream movement and have a shared experience with everyone else.
What are the benefits?
Life is stressful. We’re continually juggling crises at work, deadlines, our social life, and personal growth. It might seem respectable to be the kind of person who watches critically acclaimed foreign films to understand real pain but let’s face it: nobody has the bandwidth for that.
There’s enough pain in our own lives without watching something that hits too close to home. Especially when emotions via visual medium are so much more penetrating, I’m afraid watching a tragic Slovakian film on a Wednesday night will destroy my will to live.
After a long day, switching on the most mindless show can feel like real recreation. It’s almost like white noise to the brain, making us pleasantly numb.
It’s reassuring to not have to think all the time. We watch shows to relax and unwind, and it’s comfortable to be able to “switch off your brain.” It has a calming and numbing effect and gives us something silly and light-hearted to be excited about.
The cheap thrills that these TV shows provide are horribly predictable. Much like you’d chose an evening spent at a circus over a museum, we all like to be entertained.
Letting your brain “switch off” can have enormous benefits for your creativity. If your life is hugely creatively demanding and you have to continually wrack your brain to think in different, innovative ways all the time, you probably need to give it a rest to let it re-charge.
The instant shift from our creatively stimulating tasks to mindless crap is so stark that our brains successfully relax into that La-Z Boy with us.
Giving your psyche some time to rest can help you be more expressive when you get right back to producing. We spend a lot of effort trying to be sophisticated in our creative works, and a dose of trashy TV will remind you of how simplistic and trite human emotion can actually be.
Studies show that watching silly TV shows does something similar to the brain that falling asleep does. We’re talking about when you’re laying in bed trying to fall asleep, and your thoughts swim around, but you don’t try to make sense of them. You let them chatter until it slowly fades away.
This element of non-involvement is similar to what we do while watching a show that requires no mental effort. There’s no need to make sense of anything or think deeply of the symbolism. Consuming content at the face-value lets us lift our hands off the steering wheel for a while and cruise.
These brain-naps help the unconscious mind work in the background. Our conscious mind loves logic, but the unconscious mind loves bending facts and weaving together unusual combinations of experiences together. That’s why our dreams are so weird: it’s the work of the unconscious mind.
Letting the unconscious mind take a day-shift for once can vastly improve imagination, which in turn fuels our creative process.
The unconscious mind being given the steering wheel can also help us arrive at novel solutions for problems we couldn’t solve otherwise.
Falling asleep and watching mind-numbing TV shows have a common point: the neurological presence of Alpha waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxation and also are present in the brain just before an epiphany.
An “Aha!” moment occurs when we stop trying to think of something analytically. You’ve probably experienced this yourself.
When trying to remember a word, it seems to be almost on the tip of your tongue, and however hard you try, it escapes you. It’s really frustrating to think, “What is that word? I know it begins with M!”. It’s only until you stop trying and get distracted that it suddenly enters your mind with a pop. “Macabre!”
That’s your unconscious mind helping you out, and it only can once you give up the steering wheel.