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How to Pace Your Binge-Watching Consumption

No shame in watching an entire season in one day, but the psychology of happiness might influence you to spread it out a bit

Now that we’re essentially in a second lockdown for most of the country — either by force of law or force of cold weather — there really isn’t shit to do again. What’s to stop you from spending your entire Saturday watching eight episodes of an hour-long drama? Twelve episodes of Survivor? Well, nothing, except for your own self-discipline. While it’s honestly perfectly fine to just binge-watch the day away, we’re in for a long winter. Maybe you should pace yourself. Here’s how. 

When you really want to savor a good show, remind yourself that a TV show is designed as a TV show for a reason. Were it aired on actual TV, it would be broken up into weekly episodes. You don’t have to watch only a single episode per week, but you may enjoy a show more if you savor it in increments of one or two episodes per day, depending on length. 

Something like The Queen’s Gambit, for example, can easily lose your attention if you watch too many episodes back-to-back. You become tired, you space off, the thrill of chess loses its appeal. I, personally, couldn’t watch more than an episode and a half per night. 

But other shows (like Survivor) just absolutely hook you. Early in my quarantine, I was probably watching four episodes a day. Just this week, my mother watched Season 28, “Cagayan,” in three days. It’s arguably the best season, so that’s pretty understandable. As she watched it, though, she had to remind herself that there are a finite number of episodes to the season. Whether she watched the whole thing in one go or rationed it out to 20 minutes a day, the quantity of the season wouldn’t change. The quality, however, might.

Various studies have shown that “savoring” an experience through mindfulness and by spreading the experience out over time influences overall happiness. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2012 found that people who recorded momentary positive events and daily enjoyments in a journal reported higher levels of happiness than those who didn’t. Unless bingeing a show is a rarity for you, you may not fully experience the enjoyment of a show when you watch it all back-to-back. It’s better, then, to extend the happiness you receive from watching a show over several days. 

If you can’t help but watch everything at once, there’s still hope for your happiness. In 2019, a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology examined whether repeat or novel experiences provided more happiness. While we might feel culturally pressured to constantly consume new media, we can get some joy out of simply re-consuming the media that made us happy previously. Specifically, the study found that repeat experiences have far more “hedonic value” than we previously thought. So, if you watched a whole season of a show in one day, you’re not out of luck — you might enjoy it just as much if you watch it again another time. 

Still, remember that there are literally thousands of hours of content out there for you to watch. There’s no pressure to get it all done in one day. I mean, Survivor has 39 other seasons for you to enjoy — you won’t be running out of episodes anytime soon.