The journey to find the best media mindfulness practices has been a difficult one. After all, (the occasionally) greedy game developer, video-hosting website, and marketing genius all work very, very hard to make sure you and I stay glued to our screens.
They offer rewards, discounts, sneak peaks, and automatically autoplay the next episode after intros. Anything to keep us hooked.
When I was first starting to research Media Psychology one of the first most helpful ideas I found was the idea that all media could be placed on a spectrum between super serious and super lighthearted.
More officially, these two extremes are called “Eudaimonic” and the other “Hedonic“. The former is where we would put human dramas, thrillers, tragedies, and some horror. The latter covers sweet romances, comedies, and any other story that leaves us feeling good.
For an even more official definition, Veronika Huta’s “An Overview of Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being Concepts” summarizes them as:
“…Involves pleasure/enjoyment/satisfaction, and comfort/painlessness/ease. These variables are associated with contents representing certain mindsets, including a focus on the self, the present moment, and the tangible, and a focus on taking and consuming what one needs and wants.” p. 15
“Four contents appeared in most or all definitions: meaning/value/relevance to a broader context, personal growth/self-realization/maturity, excellence/ethics/quality, and authenticity/autonomy/integration. These variables are associated with certain mindsets, including a balance of focusing on the self and others, a balance of focusing on the present and the future, a tendency to be guided by abstract and high-picture concepts, and a focus on cultivating and building what one values and envisions.” p. 15 “Feelings of meaning, self-connectedness, elevation, accomplishments, and interest/engagement/flow represented on type of experience, which can be called eudaimonic.” p. 18
It makes sense – it even has a historical ring to it with the “Tragedy” and “Comedy” duality of Classical times.
But what the real game-changer was this idea I hadn’t considered before:
The serious Eudaimonic stuff wasn’t innately better or more important than the Hedonic media. Or vice versa. Instead, media psychologists have found that we need a balance of the two.
A common problem we all have, without being aware of it, is that sometimes we consume too much of one or the other. We watch/play too many serious/sad/scary things we start to experience psychological side effects. The same thing happens when we watch too many silly/funny/light things that lack meaningful substance.
Huta (2015) describes what happens to us if we take in too much of one or the other:
“[Taking in an excess of Hedonic media] might derail into ‘addiction, chronic escapism, destructive impulsivity, selfishness, antisocial behavior, greed, excessive consumerism’. Eudaimonic media might derail into a workaholic lifestyle, exhaustion, excessive self-sacrifice, overthinking things, excessive theorizing and loss of practicality, losing touch with one’s body, being paralyzed by existential angst.”
Thinking through all the times when I binged too much Eudaimonic media I realized I had struggled with those effects and the same for Hedonic media.
Keeping this in mind I have noticed a few changes in my media consumption:
- I no longer scorn Hedonic media as being less worthy of my time than Eudaimonic media simply because its ‘silly’ – instead I recognize its relaxing effects and how well it can help me practice mindfulness and soothe my excessive overthinking or existential dread.
- I can better self-prescribe media that will neutralize poor or low moods. I’ve learned to listen to my feelings and know when I need either Hedonic or Eudaimonic media. Knowing this helps me avoid bingeing media that is too consistently one or the other, I vary my media consumption which allows more mood stability, mood awareness, and keeps me from engaging in unhealthy bingeing habits in general. I can now turn something off with the knowledge that I need a Eudaimonia or Hedonia “Break”.
- I better recognize the side effects of Hedonic/Eudaimonia imbalances not only in my media consumption but in my personal life. I can recognize when I have been overthinking work or existential philosophies or when I have been avoiding important emotional processes like grief or disappointment with other Hedonic distractions (food, drinks, overabundance of social activity, etc.). I can pause and prescribe to myself time to relax and engage with something Hedonic for relief or when I need some quiet contemplation time to process Eudaimonic feelings that have been blocked up.
I have found that by simply keeping these concepts in mind and taking a few moments to contemplate where on the spectrum of Eudaimonic – Hedonic qualities my chosen media lands I can actually be more aware of my feelings, my psychological needs, and my overall emotional balance.
I hope to discuss more ideas like these and write/publish more about their usefulness in everyday Media Mindfulness Practices.
Source: Huta, Veronika. (2015). An overview of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being concepts. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292134516_An_overview_of_hedonic_and_eudaimonic_well-being_concepts
Thank you for reading!
Using Media Psychology, this blog, Screen Therapy, is dedicated to exploring how we can mindfully use the time we already spend with media to strengthen our emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is crucial when facing the everyday stresses and anxieties we all endure (such as the fear of death, how to develop the skills for loving relationships, career anxiety, coping with negative experiences, etc.)
We receive very little education or help processing these challenges, but by strengthening our self-knowledge and emotional intelligence through media mindfulness we can better pursue our well-being.