Of all the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle in recent years as part of my endless quest for happiness, none have been more effective than this: I stopped watching, reading and taking an interest in the news.
There are a number of reasons for this, and each speaks to a different benefit from cutting it out of my life:
Firstly, there is rarely any good news. A vast majority of news is bad. I am worried enough about everything as it is, thanks. Good things happen every second all over the world, but the news won’t tell you about them, because:
Secondly, it’s profoundly manipulative. The ‘Mainstream Media’ is specifically incentivised to keep the populace of the world angry and in fear. Angry at itself, in fear of itself. Be that terrorists, people of a different class, religion, or social strata. Conflict brings a (completely human and understandable) need for more information in an attempt to feel safer. Who provides the information? The media. Clicks are clicked, newspapers are bought, businesses stay in business.
Thirdly, it’s disempowering. While I have empathy for the victims of Ugandan genocide and wish with all my heart I could do something to stop it, it’s pure hubris to think me tutting and shaking my head makes any difference whatsoever. The news gives you the impression that being informed is the same as being empowered, when in fact the opposite is true. The global news cycle distracts you from the problems outside your door, the ones you can actually affect – but what’s the point in picking up litter in your street while dogs are being eaten in Korea?
Fourthly, it’s divisive and insulating at the same time. The news perpetuates the concept of us being “Mr Potato Heads” created from a curated selection of prescribed narratives. We choose these narratives from a thin strip of beliefs we’re already comfortable with. I used to avoid right-wing media and only get my information from liberal and left-leaning sources, because this was more palatable to me. But what wasn’t I being told? There is no such thing as an unbiased news source, and if you’re just choosing one bias over another, you might as well make up your own reality.
Am I saying ignorance is bliss? Certainly not. But in the same way it’s my responsibility to police what food I eat and be aware of the consequences of those decisions, so it is with my intake of information. For my own sanity, and to ensure my own personal impact on the world is one of focus and net benefit, I must be my own mental gatekeeper.
Try it yourself – ignore the news for a few weeks and see if you’re more content, see if you get more done, and see if the world goes to hell in a handcart because you don’t know what Donald Trump tweeted yesterday.