Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst published a working paper in 2005 titled “Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time Over Five Decades” that found that the average man and woman in the United States has approximately eight additional hours of leisure time per week compared to what their 1965 counterparts enjoyed.
This is a historical blessing.
This is time that could be spent improving one’s financial capital (self-teaching new skills to earn higher market rates for labor or studying investment opportunities so surpluses can be better deployed), beauty capital (exercising or making one’s own meals), social capital (socializing with those who ought to be socialized with), intellectual capital (reading materials that better position you to see the world as it is and how it ought to be), among others.
But that is not, collectively, what we are doing with those additional eight hours. The typical American is using about 6.8 of those 8 hours to engage in mindless consumption in front of a screen, either TV, computer, or otherwise.
In my view, this is an enormous opportunity that is being squandered, hour or so per day, week by week, month by month, year by year. If someone is truly dedicated to spending all of their excess time watching television, because that is their true purpose for what they want to get out of life, I’d still call for a re-examination, but at least they are living on their own terms and with awareness of the means, ends, and an embrace of the consequences.
For most, I think it is something that happens out of an initial fatigue and transforms into inertia, in the spirit of Samuel Johnson’s famous quotation, “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” The habit of mindless, sedentary media consumption is formed, takes hold, and that is where the opportunity for self-improvement is squandered.
Anecdotally, I have personally observed friends and family speak of increased happiness after eliminating social media accounts, cable, and other time-sucking activities with no (or at least, a highly suboptimal) benefit to their place, and then remarking on the increased joys in life thereafter.
According to a 2018 poll by Northern Trust, self-made millionaires watch 73% less television than the median American does. It seems most of this additional time is being spent getting into/staying in shape, as those who earn more than $150,000 per year spend almost 5.8 hours per week exercising, which is something that ought to be available to the median American who has an additional eight hours of leisure compared to Americans in 1965.
It is the small, daily decisions that we make on an ongoing basis, thirty minutes here, an hour there, that result in cumulative, dramatic life outcomes. For most of us, the first step towards closing the gap between what we are and what we are capable of becoming starts with putting down the remote.