A simple trick that will let you live 13.6 years longer

Takeaway: By the time you die, if you’re average, you’ll have spent 13.6 years of your life watching TV. That’s a lot of time.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 14s.

Photo: Francisco Osorio, CC


If a genie magically appeared in front of you and asked whether you would like to extend your life by 13.6 years with just a small amount of effort, would you say yes?

That’s not even a question—of course you would!

How would you spend that time? Like imagining what you’d do if you won the lottery, it’s fun to think about. Would you read hundreds more books? Write one? Travel the world? Volunteer?

The reason investing in your productivity is so important is that our time is limited. That’s why I think the best productivity tactics out there exist to help us accomplish what we have to do in less time. This lets us carve out more time for what’s actually meaningful and important to us.

But yet, despite how limited our time is, we waste so much of it. I don’t think many people, as an example, would consider filling those 13 years with binging on Netflix, or watching TV.

Yet that’s exactly what the average American does. The number of years the regular person burns through watching TV is astounding. If you’re reading this post, on this site, you’re probably better than most. But for an average person who lives until 70, and watches 34 hours of TV a week (the average), this amounts to 13.6 years of TV watching.

I would never tell you how you should spend your time, and it’s not my intention to turn this post into a 500-word guilt trip. But I think it’s important to remember that every minute of TV we watch is one minute that we could spend doing anything else. If we have the time, freedom, and flexibility to turn on the TV, chances are we also have the freedom and flexibility to spend time on other things that are significantly more meaningful.

I personally believe that the meaning of life is not something we discover—rather, it’s something we create. Instead of watching TV, when we spend time with a friend or loved one, volunteer, meditate, or pick up a book that will help us become a better human being, we make our life more meaningful. The research shows just how much happier we become when we do these things. Even if we’d never give up TV entirely, it’s easy to admit that 13.6 years is a lot of time to spend watching it.

In the moment, especially when our energy is low, it’s often tempting to veg out and mindlessly watch a few episodes of a show. But it may not be worth the cost—and when you spend your time on something you find meaningful, more energy usually follows.

13.6 years is a lot of time to burn, especially on something that’s not all that meaningful.

  • wlad

    Scary stats. I wasted so much of my early years watching TV so I gave up my TV a few years back. Alas, I seem to have substituted it with more Internet time. Any tips on how to kick that habit?

    • Scott

      Joshua Fields Milburn, of The Minimalists, would say to conduct your own experiment: give a trusted friend your Internet router for a month to see if you can feasibly go without Internet at home.

      Speaking from experience, it will teach you to more efficiently batch your Internet needs, avoid time-suck websites, and, best of all, make your time at home feel HOURS longer.

  • Rs21

    First of all, sorry if my english is not very good. Is not my first language.
    I agree with you on that the majority of people have a really bad habit with tv, which is to watch it mindlessly. But I think you can not compare the classic mindless tv user who browse through all the channels until finding something mildly appealing to him, to a, for example, Netflix user. The Netflix user decide what exactly he wants to see, without interruptions and at the pace that he wants. Here the user have the opportunity of appreciate the product at a more artistic level. And I think nowadays more and more people see some kind of movies and series not just to past time but instead like an art. In that case, watching a good series can be compared to reading a good book. It can have the same benefits. I think you could differentiate the types of users the next time. I really don’t think watching good movies and series are a waste of time. I am both a regular book reader and a tv series watcher, and the advantages that they have brought me can be compared.

    • Scott

      You bring up a good point that there exists different quality programming from different providers (e.g., YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, Broadcast TV, Cable TV) with differing amounts of advertising and user controls. What I think needs emphasis is that EVERY provider has junk food entertainment available. Most of Netflix’s offerings are junk food, just like on TV.

      Good art taxes us; it challenges our conventions and assumptions. It expands our perspectives on people who live different lives but with whom we share so much in common. In contrast, most visual media feels good going down, but, in the end, doesn’t nourish us.

  • Scott

    If anyone is wondering why they have a hard time stopping TV watching, know that it’s addictive: http://www.cognitiveliberty.org/5jcl/5JCL59.htm

  • This is sobering and enlightening. I am not an avid TV watcher, thank goodness. But the same could be so true of YouTube, etc. I love your reply to @wlad about breaking the internet habit. This article was recommended by Cait Flanders of Blonde on a Budget. Sharing this post on my page and am now a new subscriber!

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