A few years ago when the TV series “Breaking Bad” was all the rage, I decided to jump on the pop culture bandwagon and check it out. Like many other viewers, I was captivated from the first episode, pulled in to the show’s unique plot, complex characters, and gritty realism. But as my evenings filled with the story of Walter White’s meth lab in the New Mexico desert, I found my daytime thoughts turning to images of violence, and my sleep filled with nightmares. Though I wanted to follow the show to its conclusion, in my spirit I knew its gruesome intensity and murky morality caused me more harm than good. For my mental health, I had to stop watching.
This series of events has happened more times than I’d like to admit. I’ll start watching something because it’s popular or convenient only to realize that its content is messing with my head—or wish I had done something else with my time. In a world of on-demand entertainment, it’s easy to make choices for our viewing, gaming, or internet pleasure based more on easy access and cultural relevance than careful decision. To live more mindfully, we could all stand to temper our entertainment with a dose of thoughtful intention. Before you reach for the remote, consider these four questions.
1. What’s my reason for watching this?
Our brains need breaks, and entertainment has great value simply for the leisure time it offers. With our busy lives, each choice about how we spend our time is important. Asking myself to give a reason why I’m putting on a particular show, movie, game, or YouTube video brings some discernment to my choices. Am I watching something because it will make me think? Because I need a laugh? Or am I just bored? This always results in insight that helps me decide whether to stay tuned in or find something else to watch or do.
2. What would I tell my friend about this show?
Truthfully, there have been times when I’ve gotten drawn into entertainment choices that I definitely wouldn’t want to broadcast to others, whether it’s content that’s violent, profane, or overly sexualized. Wanting to keep my viewing choices secret is a major red flag. When I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it to a friend, perhaps I should consider what this says about my choice.
3. How do I feel after I watch this?
Ugh. You know the feeling when you keep watching something even when you knew deep down it was going to make you feel bad? When we really enjoy certain aspects of a show or game like fascinating characters or intriguing plot, our minds can easily justify other unsavory elements. Exploring how entertainment affects us on a spiritual level can be an important step to making more mindful choices. If you know you’re sensitive to certain types of content, stay attuned to that inner barometer. Or if something just makes you feel bad or leads your thoughts to violence, disillusionment, or depression, it may not be worth continuing to watch.
4. How much would I pay to watch this (if I’m not already paying)?
These days, we access much of our entertainment for free. Billions of hours of video are just a click away on YouTube, and though many of us pay for services like Netflix and Hulu, these come at a pretty negligible expense that’s often forgettable, once paid. In my family, it’s rare to fork over the cash for a movie rental—but when we do, it’s for something we’ve determined we really want to watch. What if all our entertainment decisions were so deliberate? Asking if you would pay (and how much) can be a helpful consideration.
With a mindful approach to entertainment, you can feel positive about both the fun you had watching and your choice of the content itself. Living in alignment with your values in this way can only benefit your mental health.
Originally published on July 20, 2018.