Twenty Years From Now, You Will Deeply Regret Watching So Much TV

Megan Holstein

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Most people who click on my articles are dissatisfied with their life in some way. Makes sense. You wouldn’t be reading self-help articles if you didn’t think your life could be better, after all. You’re open to thinking about your life critically and changing up elements that don’t seem to be working.

But some readers take issue with that advice. They are willing to add things into their lives (like meal planning and regular exercise) but they are not willing to take away anything. They are perfectly happy with the amount of Netflix they watch / the amount of time they spend gaming / the hours they laze around social media, thank you very much. These readers leave comments and send me emails with a personally demanding tone, like “Who are you to tell me what to do? I can spend my life playing video games/watching Netflix and movies/using social media if I want to!”

I mean… you can if you want to. It’s a free country.

But I don’t think you should want to.

Everything you can do with your time can make you happy in two ways: over the short-term, and over the long-term. Working out makes you happy over the long term. Eating cake makes you happy in the short term. It stands to reason, then, if you want to lead a happy life, you need to focus most of your energy on doing things that will make you happy in the long term. Activities that make you happy in the short term are great for coping with acute pain and make up a part of a balanced life, but only a part.

The good news is, psychologists have a solid understanding of what makes humans happy over the long term.

Even though we are all beautiful and unique in our own special way, we all need basically the same things to thrive. Things like quality relationships with loved ones, challenging and meaningful work, good health, and an earned sense of self-confidence. The more we can fill our lives with these things, the better.

Or, put another way,

“Someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.”

Life never stands still. It only gets better or worse. If your life isn’t getting better, then it’s getting worse. And if you don't do anything about it, it’s only going to keep getting worse. Every minute we spend checked out of life is a minute our life spends sliding backward.

I will grant that checking out of life has utility when life is overwhelming, as it inevitably is sometimes, but we can’t stay checked out for long. When driving a car, if you take your hand off the wheel for a moment, you will be fine, but if you leave your hand off the wheel any longer, you’ll crash.

Life is the same way. We can take our hand off the wheel for a moment, but not much longer than that.

Judging by the national averages of 5 hours a day spent on a phone, 2 hours a day spent watching Netflix, and 3 hours a day spent gaming, most of us are taking our hand off the wheel for too long. And, in America, we are suffering the results of the crash: We check out so often we’re losing our ability to deal with life. We’re overweight and exhausted. Rates of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are climbing sharply.

As our ability to deal goes down, life seems ever more overwhelming, causing us to check out even more, the definition of a vicious spiral. As it gets out of control, even ordinary situations to be overwhelming to us. These are the sorts of spirals that lead people to begin reading self-improvement articles in the first place.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we were immortal. If we had an infinite amount of time to do everything, why not devote 160 hours to fully completing Skyrim? There would always be time to buckle down later.

We don’t have an infinite amount of time. The 160 hours I spent completing Skyrim in high school are hours I will never get back.

The hours add up. I used to spend at least five hours a week on Netflix and five on games. Or, in other words, about six or seven episodes of a Netflix show and another level or two on my video games. Netflix and video games only become significantly hazardous to your health at 3+ hours a day, meaning my use was “healthy.” But even so, these habits cost me. Instead of spending that time working out and gaining physical health, or spending it on a startup, or spending it building friendships, I spent it on… nothing. Ten hours a week, more or less, for five years, or 26,000 hours. All wasted.

“One day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second….Birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”
— Paul Kalanithi

Many of my readers are still in the early hours of our lives. But we will blink, and suddenly, it will be sunset. As the light fades, we won’t be happy about all the afternoons we pissed around. When we can count the number of hours we have left on one hand, we will be desperate to trade one of those wasted afternoons for an afternoon spent doing something worthwhile. But we won’t be able to. It will be too late.

You are living the days your future self will remember on your deathbed right now. Are you living days you will look back on fondly? Or are you living days you would rather trade?

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Self-help writer with 3M+ views on Medium and Quora. Covering personal growth, relationship skills, and career growth.

Columbus, OH
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