The pace of life feels like it is accelerating at a phenomenal rate with seemingly endless demands on our time. People complaining of increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression appears to be at an all-time high. We seem to be working harder, eating faster and sleeping less. Eating fast has been linked to higher rates of obesity, which increases the chances of numerous health conditions not least diabetes, heart disease and strokes as does not getting enough sleep. There are so many things demanding our attention and there seems to be very little time left over to enjoy our food or get a good night sleep.
This is puzzling because the figures presented by Our World in Data, a non-profit website that brings together the data and research on long-run trends indicates that the number of hours worked by most people in the developed world has been dropping for over a century. Conservative figures suggest the average number of full time hours worked in the UK has dropped by about 16 hours per week over the past century. With the introduction of domestic technology like washing machines and vacuum cleaners and the blurring of gender roles in domestic and external employment, a similar drop has been seen in the time consumed by household work. So where has all this extra time and extra energy gone?
One obvious smoking gun would appear to be screen time. According to official statistics collected by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board, the average adult in the UK will spend over 4 hours each day watching TV. This means that between the ages of 16 and 65 they will spend over 8 years watching TV and that does not include time on social media or internet browsing.
We alluded to another possible cause in an earlier posted blog call ‘Why is the modern world so stressful’. The modern world offers us more choices than at any other time in humanity’s history. We no longer have to eat what is in season or what is produced locally. Now we need to decide between hundreds of menu choices available at the supermarket or the tempting suggestions from the celebrity chefs about what to cook. In addition to variety we are bombarded with the health and ethical implications of what we buy and eat. Things like sugar, fat and salt content need to be considered alongside fibre and ‘five a day’ not to mention the environmental and animal welfare issues.
A century ago if we were lucky, a holiday was a week at the local seaside town, staying in the same guest house as previous years. Now we have to spend time browsing the
travel websites, reading reviews and comparing them for their exoticness to the Facebook posts of our friends and the travel pundits. Again we need to weigh up the carbon footprint, the effect on biodiversity and impact on indigenous traditional culture to name a few. These combined with the meltdown in following fashion, driving the right car and pursuing a fulfilling career along with everything else that projects our ideal image and lifestyle take up a lot of time and mental energy.
The screen world offers us a vast panorama of new potential experiences and opportunities and like a child in a candy shop, we are overwhelmed and seduced to try and taste them all while being made aware of all of the implications of our consumption and lifestyle choices. It is not that we are busier than before doing vital things but rather our attention is being hijacked by many things that are not important and others that are ultimately never going to fulfil us in the long term. The reality is we are spending more than eight years of our life living vicariously through the desire for images on the screen, rather than experiencing the gratitude of simple but real experiences like the taste of our food, the comfort of our bed and the company of others.
So back to the question of ‘How to slow down and make more time’. Obviously without something like Dr Who’s Tardis we cannot make more time but we can make choices about the way we spend our time. Deliberately deciding to spend less time watching TV and screen time generally will spare up more time for immediate real experiences like taking a moment to taste our food, listen to what our friends and loved ones are saying and to get a decent night’s sleep. Sleep that is more likely to be free from the stress of all the desires and things we must achieve because we have less exposure to the media barrage of tempting ‘must does’ ‘must haves’ and ‘bucket lists’. Imagine someone offered you 8 extra years during your prime to live a truly fulfilling life!