We surveyed people from around the world, asking how they spend their time and how that matches up to what’s most important in their lives. If you had one week to live, what would you do? Would you do more of that now if you could? Have we got our work-life balance all wrong? Why do our most important priorities – those things we would do in our last living moments – take up so little of our time?
The average person spends 90,360 hours at work in their lifetime – that’s over 10 years! We all know we only live once, but we spend most of our time doing things that are not so important to us. Maybe it’s time we took a look at our lives and decided to spend more time with our family and friends, to travel the world and to just do things we love? We spend half our life sleeping and an 8th of our life at work, we have other commitments and we all procrastinate a little so it can be hard to find time for what’s really important. As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days, is of course how we spend our lives”. It’s time to think about how we spend each day, to give ourselves more time to do what matters most.
The average person spends most of their week at work. We procrastinate, watch TV and use social media for 1-3 hours a day. Social media and TV are quite passive forms of entertainment, which can be great if we need to unwind, but they both have addictive qualities that can get in the way of other things we want to do. On average, we spend a few hours a week on chores and hobbies, which does suggest some balance. But spending time with friends and family and engaging in spiritual activities were not a high priority, happening less than once a week. What do you spend more time doing: housework or visiting friends? – Which would you prefer to do? Which is actually more important?
Despite not seeing much of our family and friends, we report that 66% of people felt happy every day and 69% felt thankful every day - two thirds isn’t bad, but it would be better if it was higher. We also found that most of us also feel anxious every day. But the other negative emotions - sadness, anger and guilt - were much more evenly distributed, with approximately one third of us feeling these emotions daily and about a quarter of us experiencing these weekly. But roughly 10% of us, feel these negative emotions less than once a month. But what about that 35% of people that don’t feel happy every day? and the 29% of people who feel guilty or depressed every day? and the 54% of us who feel anxious daily? - Perhaps readdressing our work life balance would help that.
What would we do, if we have one week to live? The number one priority for people if they had only one week to live is to spend time with their family. This was shortly followed by travel and seeing friends. 5% of people felt that the legacy they left behind was most important, with desires to help as many people as possible or to sort out things for their family. Only 4% of people were looking to cross something off their bucket list, whether it was swimming with dolphins or climbing a mountain.
Having decided that spending time with friends and family and travelling would be our top 3 priorities if we had one week to live, we found that we don’t give much time to these activities in the rest of our lives. 24% of us said they did these activities less than once a week and 77% of us spend less than 10 hours a week doing these things. Compared to going to work, we really don’t spend much of our lives dong what we value most.
So the question is: does doing what’s important, like seeing friends and family, actually affect how we feel? The surprising finding is that when we spend more time doing these things, actually experience a much broader range of emotions. We are more likely to feel thankful, angry, guilty and sad. Happiness is not much affected by how much time we spend seeing friends and family, but anxiety definitely is, when we don’t do these important things, we feel more worried on average.
So, what can we learn from this? On average we are actually a happy group of people, but how we live our lives just doesn’t align with what’s most important to us. Maybe we should find more time for those things that matter to us most. Ask yourself the question: if you were to die tomorrow, would you be happy with how you’d lived your last week?
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