Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
27 Sep

Are You Living an Active or Passive Life?

Humans enjoy being entertained. We like watching funny, engrossing, exciting shows, movies, and plays. We love good tunes. And we enjoy watching a great stand-up comedian at work, the kind that makes your abs sore from laughter. But why? Well, it boils down to our need for sensation. Simply put, we need to laugh, cry, tense up from excitement, experience emotional highs and lows, and we enjoy the activation of our adrenal systems – whether it’s due to something happening to us in real life or to an imaginary character on a screen somewhere – because we have the equipment necessary to experience all those things, and we need to use it. Feeling sensations, emotions, excitement, then, is a prerequisite for being a healthy, happy human. An ancestral expectation.

This makes sense when you think about it. Everything that we had to do to survive, like hunting, fighting, exploring, and climbing to tall places, naturally elicited powerful sensations. And if we were going to continue to perform those actions and survive long enough to reproduce, the sensations had to be rewarding on some level. The flush of adrenaline that came with killing an antelope had to be enjoyable, or else we’d be less likely to kill again. Even simple socializing, while not necessarily thrilling or exciting, is highly entertaining because it reinforced an activity that allowed us to exchange ideas, solidify relationships, and learn new things, tips, and tricks. You want to know where the tastiest berries are? You gotta talk to someone to find out.

But look at the passive voice we use when we talk about entertainment nowadays. We are entertained, we like being entertained; we do not entertain ourselves or do exciting, hilarious things that also entertain us. We are largely passive participants in entertainment, while “entertainers” are an elite, select group of professionals who make good money entertaining us, and “entertainment” has come to signify the various mediums through which we consume entertainment – TV, Internet, video games, etc. Entertainment is very much about things being done to and for us, while we lay back and take it all in.

The numbers are pretty staggering. In an average American household, the TV is on for 6 hours and 47 minutes each day. 66% of Americans regularly watch TV while eating dinner. The average American kid watches 1,500 hours of TV a year, and over half of 4-6 year olds polled preferred watching TV to “spending time with their father.” But the television has been around for decades, and it’s always been popular. In fact, research suggests that people watched almost as much TV back then as they do today (PDF). I watched plenty as a kid, but I still managed to get out into trouble, run around, play, and experience life in between episodes of Bonanza and the Andy Griffith Show, so what explains today? Well, these days 93% of teens and adults aged 12-29 also go online daily, with more than a third using it several times a day. When you factor in mobile and smart phone usage, every waking hour is consumed by electronic entertainment, the vast majority of it passive. For a people mired in media, there’s simply no time left for active entertainment.

What did people do before television? Before the Internet? How did people keep themselves entertained during those occasional five second periods of inactivity without a smartphone to pull out? How did people occupy their time when they weren’t working, going to school, or procuring food? In other words, how did people back then keep themselves entertained without the wealth of media options available to us now? Did leisure time consist of staring at walls, the ground, and/or the ceiling, or if you were lucky and weather permitted, shapes in the clouds?

10,000+ years ago, folks had nought but their own imagination, their community, and the wild world around them. When they weren’t procuring food, shelter, or safety (activities that were often exciting and engrossing in their own right), Grok and co. could play games with and talk to each other, explore the environment, tell and listen to stories, play games, and practice hunting skills. I’m probably missing a few activities (and there’s no way to know for sure what specifically went down, unless perhaps we unearth a paleolithic version of Twister somewhere), but we know what they did not do. They did not lock the door, shut the blinds, plop down on the couch, and watch TV for half the day. They did not go to the movies. They did not surf the web late into the night. The closest thing to passive consumption of entertainment was listening to someone tell stories, but even that was a participatory act, since the listener was in the same room, probably knew the person telling it, and would respond and react in real time to their words. Oh, and there were no commercials. Basically, if Grok wanted entertainment, he had to go out and do things to make it happen. And if he wanted to be entertained, say by a storyteller, he had to go directly to the source. There were no other options.

When you take everything into account, it’s difficult to lay too much blame on folks today. Most of us grew up in a world where entertainment and sensation came prepackaged and easily deliverable, and that’s hard to get around. After all, humans love the easy route. Heck, animals in general prefer the easy route, because easy routes are few and far between in the wild. So when you see one, you take it! Ten thousand years ago, the only way to feel anything was to go out and actually experience it. Today, it’s easier to watch other people’s experiences on a screen, and it’s sometimes more effective, especially when they’re enhanced by sex, violence, explosions, special effects, audio, and teams of writers/actors/directors working to make the experience that much more intense. And remember – feeling those powerful sensations is not optional. We crave and need them to function well, so the path of least resistance and most abundance will also be the path most traveled. I think we’re just too far removed from real experience, from having to engage with the world. To counteract that, we have to consciously decide to turn away from the easy route, to go out and do things differently, and that’s hard to do for an animal wired to take the path of least resistance.

But we gotta do it.

So here’s my challenge for the day: be engaged with the world and those who populate it. Get off the computer and off the couch. Find/do/explore/feel the real thing. How you do so is up to you, but I have a few suggestions.

  • Watch TV, sure, but watch it selectively. Set the shows you truly care about to tape and keep the TV off otherwise. And try to stick to shows that make you think. More Dexter, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Ken Burns docs; less reality TV and Two and a Half Men. Don’t just have the TV on because you’re home.
  • Use Facebook, but use it to facilitate real world, face-to-face interaction. Make an event and invite people to it. Catch up with an old friend and meet up at a coffee shop.
  • When you read blogs, participate in the comment section. Don’t just consume; produce, interact, discuss!
  • Watch a movie at the cinema, or better yet, go to a comedy show or watch a show at the theater. Afterward, talk about what you just watched over coffee or drinks.
  • Join an adult sports league, or organize something with your social circle. You could even just head down to the local park for a pickup game.
  • Instead of playing video games, have friends over for a board game night, or maybe poker night. And if you’re going to play video games, try multiplayer games.
  • Read fiction. It’s passive, but you have to actively process the words and imagine the world the author creates.
  • Look for a paleo Meetup group near you, join it, and start attending functions. If your new Meetup group is staid, start suggesting meetups yourself! Don’t wait for others to do it.
  • Instead of buying all your meat all the time, try hunting. Instead of buying all your produce, try gardening. If you don’t have the option for either, go to farmer’s markets, where you can look the person who grew your food directly in the eye as you exchange money for goods and actually get to know them.
  • Get a dog (and feed it an ancestral diet). It’ll get you outside and teach you to be more present and aware of the moment.
  • Make a point to say “hello” to passers-by. Even a smile and nod will usually work, and it’s not a big commitment. It’s just a quick connection, a mutual acknowledgement of another human being. No “stop-and-chat” required.
  • Stop using porn. Have real sex instead.

If you’re complaining that this is all too hard, that everyone else you know lives on Facebook and only text messages, change that. Invite them out. Think about how much you wish you could have more real experiences and realize that everyone else probably feels the same way. Like you, they’re just waiting for someone to take charge. Be that person who takes charge.

With all that said, I have to ask: how are you going to be engaged with the world? How do you plan on living an active, versus passive, life?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is a very timely post. I live in San Diego and have been thinking a lot about these ideas since the “big blackout” we had a few weeks ago. Guess what happened? Everyone immediately went outside! And we talked for hours. After four years I formally met my neighbors that live across from me and had a great laugh about what they do for a living. Granted, we really have nothing in common lifestyle-wise so that is likely why we’ve never chatted more than briefly but it really made me think about how disconnected we can get from actual live humans while adhering to a schedule and shuffling thru the myriad electronic information and entertainment of the day.

    I am an active person and get outside to sweat and take in the sights everyday but I have truly reflected on this subject since the blackout. It’s good stuff to think and “do” about!

    Del Mar Mel wrote on September 27th, 2011
  2. I think, Mark, that this will be a post to remember. This is advice not only for the paleo-community, but for anyone.

    Amen to the last point.

    Laws of the Cave wrote on September 27th, 2011
  3. I watched way too much TV and played way too many video games as a child but I’d also spent uncountable hours in the forest exploring so it must have balanced out, I still consider myself a television addict. people my age should not know about Fonzy or Happy Days in general .

    alex wrote on September 27th, 2011
  4. I needed something like this! Although I already try to do these things but I feel as if something is missing…

    Andy wrote on September 27th, 2011
  5. Learn to play chess instead of video games ! So much more active use of your brain in a creative way.

    David wrote on September 27th, 2011
  6. I’ve been trying to stay away from TV, but when you said more Dexter, I sure have to agree with it!
    I am not sure about reading fiction, I like real stuff a bit more.

    Tatianna wrote on September 27th, 2011
  7. What great timing! – yesterday I wasted a huge amount of time surfing the web for paleo recipes, only to end up anxious and stressed about all the “can’t eats” and feeling inadequate about my own cooking. I would have been much better off DOING something myself – inventing a recipe, writing a blog post, weeding my garden, knitting some socks, meditating, walking – with all that time. I’ll have to set myself an internet limit, and once it’s past, get off my butt and into action!

    Gydle wrote on September 27th, 2011
  8. Talk to your work colleagues instead of sending them mail all the time.

    Phone a friend and listen to their voice instead of posting on their Facebook wall or mentioning them on Twitter.

    Dust off the video camera and take it along to day events and social outings instead of only on holidays. Then get hold of video editing software and put together 5-10 minute clips of various moments in your life to look back at. This way you can create and savour your own memories instead of always watching how other people have great moments.

    Michelle wrote on September 27th, 2011
  9. Oh, and sometimes, just sometimes, when you ask someone “how are you?”, stop and wait for a proper answer instead of the normal superficial reply of “fine thanks, and you”.

    Michelle wrote on September 27th, 2011
  10. Well, I’ve been reading MDA for awhile now but never commented. I’ll be active today and comment! Thanks for a great post and reminding me to live!

    ctan wrote on September 28th, 2011
  11. Amen to nodding to passerbys and smiling! Do it ladies and gents!

    Primal Toad wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • I have to say, I’m much more conscious of doing this on my runs. For some reason it seems to make more sense to say hello while running, whereas just walking around in daily life it seems a bit awkward…however maybe it’s time to be ok with feeling a little uncomfortable saying hi to complete strangers for no reason!

      Rebekah wrote on September 28th, 2011
  12. I think sometimes I take for granted being stationed overseas in South Korea. When I sit down and think about it, I LOVE being here, and it just occurred to me that it’s because I unintentionally do a lot of these things. I download my favorite shows and only watch an hour of TV a day, unless there was nothing worth downloading that day. I walk to and from work. I eat kimchi everyday! I have access to (and consume large amounts of) lots of great organic korean vegetables and eggs. Most americans here play pool or darts on leagues, or play on softball teams. I’ve done all three recently, and I’m doing amateur stand up comedy for kicks too. Since going primal, I’ve kept a close circle of friends who are pursuing the same lifestyle and we go sprinting together on the weekends!

    Ben wrote on September 28th, 2011
  13. “When you read blogs, participate in the comment section. Don’t just consume; produce, interact, discuss!”


    Please do this people. As many of you know, I have a blog and LOVE when people comment. I get stoked when I get over 20 comments. Go to my blog and engage in the conversation! I reply to 80% + of the comments – sometimes 100%!!

    I loved this line too:

    “Stop using porn. Have real sex instead.”

    And giving a nod at minimum to passerbys with a smile is HUGE

    Primal Toad wrote on September 28th, 2011
  14. Ditch Paolo Coelho. Makes people too self-satisfied, this cheap brand of spirituality. Cheap because it will claim to provide answers and not raise questions.

    For real primal inspiration, read the Moomins series by Tove Jansson. Little forest-dwelling creatures, trying to survive dangers and still build and love each other.

    The Moomins books are great for adults as well as kids, but if you need something more, there are Tove Jansson’s adult novels as well.

    Hipparchia wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • Yeah Moomins! I take my name from their primal winter diet … they fill up on pineneedles before hibernation. :-)

      Pineneedles wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • just checked it out on amazon. looks really good!


      Brandon wrote on September 28th, 2011
  15. I feel that these junky TV programs creep on my nerves and intelligence.
    There are a few great series and shows out there, but the majority of commercials and programs just kill time.
    The science channels are cool, but usually I don’t watch TV. I used to watch when I was a kid, the old cartoons are the best, even today!

    Paul Alexander wrote on September 28th, 2011
  16. I have been loving trying to do things the “old fashioned” way… I sat down and wrote letters to friends this week, and have been breaking out the cards and playing solitaire when I have 5-10 minutes available. There is something really therapeutic about being with your thoughts as you solve that kind of puzzle.
    Great reminders!

    Ariana wrote on September 28th, 2011
  17. This post is great. I sit here passively soaking up the post and comments every night but have only commented once or twice myself…

    If I read a post from now on and I have an opinion about it, I am going to leave a comment!

    And I am also going to actively tell my bf to turn down his xbox shooty noises rather than passively let them disrupt my wind down pre-grok-sleep relaxation time.

    Primal Nik wrote on September 28th, 2011
  18. Good stuff. And timely, as I’m attempting to write a novel. I’ve read many novels (more passive) and often thought “I can do better than that.” Well, it’s a different ball game when sitting there, with nothing but a blank page in front of you. Much more active. More challenging, but more rewarding; we’ll see how it goes…

    Mick wrote on September 28th, 2011
  19. Great and very timely reminder for me. I have recently joined a roller derby league and it has really improved my fitness, social life and sense of purpose. After years of exercising with no end goals in mind and being too sedentary it is just what I need. Also it is really fun.

    I still need to work on TV watching – it is a bit of an automatic habit with me and one I am keen to break. I spend quite a lot of time alone when my husband is away and I treat it a bit like a stand in person. I need to be ok with silence and just myself without being bored.

    Alexa wrote on September 28th, 2011
  20. I came late to adulthood. Prior to that, I walked everywhere because I had no car, lugged a heavy backpack because I was in school, and spent most of my downtime reading or making up stories. Now I drive everywhere so I have NO time to read and get no exercise. The backpack stays on the seat. I have very little downtime and generally spend it taking care of minor stuff around the house, or chatting with my honey– which is admittedly rewarding, BUT. I need to get my rear back in gear.

    Cathy wrote on September 28th, 2011
  21. Great post. Sit and watch life go by or live your life. It really makes you see things differently.

    Cory wrote on September 28th, 2011
  22. It’s times like these that I’m glad I grew up without much TV. As a kid we had TV (lived in the city those days) but we never paid for cable. So there were a few channels. But we never just turned on the tv to find something to watch. We found something to watch and THEN turned on the tv. and we certainly weren’t allowed to just sit in front of it and rot. I watched sesame street and reading rainbow as a kid, then Star Trek and MASH when I was a bit older and it was a weekly treat to get to watch the cartoons on saturday morning. And we did a family movie night too (we made pizza, got to have a soda! and watched a movie).

    Then we moved to the mountains where without satellite you can get 2-3 channels if you put up an arial. We didn’t. So no TV. And I never missed it. We could still watch movies (we kept the TV when we moved. It was a 20 year old tv that wasn’t much bigger than my laptop screen is and the speaker gave out years before so it had to be plugged into the stereo.

    I’ve never owned my own tv and on the rare occasions when I want passive tv entertainment I find something on line but I don’t have TV on for 4 hours a WEEK much less the 4 hours a DAY that you quote Mark. Thats kinda scary!

    And I hate being in a room with the tv’s on. I’m kinda programed to think that if it is on it must be interesting so I can’t not look. Even though it’s boring!

    Noctiluca wrote on September 28th, 2011
  23. Great post! And so true. I find myself becoming more and more aware of how I spend my free time, and this post definitely helps me admit how “easy” it is to come home, turn on the TV or go on the computer! And the “occasional five second period” of stillness…it has sadly become second nature for me to whip out my phone. This all being said-I’m ready to make some changes!

    Rebekah wrote on September 28th, 2011
  24. I’m so glad I grew up without Television.
    When we finally got one (which was a hand-me-down and black/white screen) my mother allowed us kids to gather in the living room to watch Lassie, Little House on the Prarie and Bonanza.
    In my teens I was too busy taking Kung Fu and Kendo classes and on week ends it was Disco time!
    I didn’t fall into the passive entertainment trap until I got married, party times were over and every hobby too expensive…so what’s left?
    Sitting behind TV and/or PC (online gaming) for years has put 30 lbs on my midsection, aching back and knees and made me actually quite dumb, even though I know more things now than 20 years ago.
    Not being active and letting things entertain us excellerates aging, me thinks.

    Arty wrote on September 28th, 2011
  25. I am actually pretty “active” compared to “passive” the tv is not turned on until my husband gets home we usually watch about two hours of tv before going to bed I also dont have cable I have netflix- I like to visit the art galleries in Savannah and venture out to see new sights. I could probably do more to be more active in the world since a good chunk of my time is spent creating art digitally or traditionally ( I am always entertaining myself though especially when I begin writing a story) I do the following: knit, crochet, paper crafts, and herbal sachets, jewelry making, and anything that sounds interesting to try especially if it is recycling or reusing…. I will admit I do tend to facebook a lot- but hey army wife here I have peeps I keep in touch with and fb just happens to be the medium- I do give myself a time limit on there though- it can be consuming.
    I used to be addicted to my cell phone- now I hardly use it. I am actually wondering why I even have it sometimes. I can’t imagine watching that much tv!!

    Lexxy wrote on September 28th, 2011
  26. Mark! You forgot CATS! 😉

    I take at least three breaks during the day ( since I am home all day lucky me) to play with my cat I make sure she is up and moving we play a game of “tag” she will chase me paw at my leg then I will chase her and rough her up a bit… I guess I do not have an ordinary cat though she is sort of a CatDog- she actually hates other cats and prefers dogs.. also cats can be trained to high five, fetch,etc

    Lexxy wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • I’ve always been a dog person, never understood ppl that have cats.
      Then one day some homeless, malnourished kitten showed up at my door as I was ready to leave. I let it in, threw some food and water on hte floor and left the house.
      When I came back he was curled up and asleep on my couch.
      Needless to say, he never left, he decided to stay in a household with 4 dogs…odd little cat. He now weighs 15 lbs and listens like a dog, even speaks on command, what an animal!

      Arty wrote on September 28th, 2011
  27. So, ad primal adherents, we’re supposed to have sex and wear Vibrams? That’s impossible. Everyone knows that Vibrams are the best form of birth control since those plastic-framed glasses of the 80’s.

    Mark D. wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • I disagree. Hubby looks super sexy in his Vibrams….

      Rachel S wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • I think you’re wearing them wrong . . .

      Nicole wrote on September 28th, 2011
  28. Today I had to work at a supermarket where I have never been before, in a town I don’t know well. I looked at a map before I left and tried to find it without my navigation system. Worked.

    Turnstone wrote on September 28th, 2011
  29. Your articles have a great way of inspiring and I’m applying some of the points on that list already, including the act of commenting here. I’ve been reading your blog for almost a year now and yet, this is my first post. Thank you Mark Sisson.

    Amiar wrote on September 28th, 2011
  30. Great post! I’ve been trying to watch TV less and play around with my 2 yo twins more. Has anyone seen the movie “Babies”?
    I highly recommend this movie, shows the first year of life of four different babies in Namibia, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Mongolia. The babies in Africa and Mongolia had no media for entertainment and they seemed to me to be the happiest. They watched insects and played games with other family members outside. Very primal indeed!

    Suzanne wrote on September 28th, 2011
  31. Amen to all of that! Thanks, Mark, for the excellent post! 3 months ago (before even going primal) I quit Facebook and it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – I have TIME, enormous amounts of TIME now on my hands, to play with my son, to sit outside under the trees in the sunshine, watching our backyard chickens, and just existing – I have rediscovered the joy of talking & connecting face to face with friends instead of relying on social networking to get it done. I realized that at the end of my days, I want to say I have lived and participated in Life, not just watched it or read about it online.
    Great Article, as always!

    Dara Cranp wrote on September 28th, 2011
  32. I just took up a new instrument myself and I’m loving it, although I should practice more.

    One other suggestion — you-pick farms!!! If you want to do more than just shop at the farmer’s market but you can’t fully commit to a garden, go to a you pick farm and pick it yourself. Picking your own berries in the hot sun is pretty primal.

    There are a lot more you-picks than you think, and they do more than just a few pumpkin hayrides. Every farm I’ve gone has its own little farmer’s market store with local veggies.

    oxide wrote on September 28th, 2011
  33. My friends and I frequently play board games or other interactive games. I definitely prefer spending time with people over watching TV. I actually rarely watch TV any more. I only watch 2 or 3 shows regularly and that’s only if I can get them off Netflix or Hulu.

    Emily wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • Same here: Have you played Quelf makes for good blackmail photos of friends 😀

      Lexxy wrote on September 28th, 2011
  34. So here I am commenting to the blog. The timing is optimal. The whole family actually turned off the TV last night and went to look at the approaching storm (desperately needed in dought-stricken Texas). We ended up locking ourselves out the house, but were able to eventually get back in. But during the time when we were out, it was great and my son and I set up a date for this evening to play chess.

    ShadowKat wrote on September 28th, 2011
  35. This is really an MDA ‘all time high’. Especially though this is cind of what I’ve been practicing during the 30 day challange. :)

    Viktor wrote on September 28th, 2011
  36. I love this blog post. It lines up with a book I just finished “WellBeing” by Tom Rath. Pretty much, we need to engage with other human beings. period.

    Laura wrote on September 28th, 2011
  37. I can remember back in the 60’s as a child when we wanted to watch TV, we had to turn it on 10 minutes early so it would have the chance to “warm up” and have a good picture. We only turned it on when a particular show was on. Seems like these days, both internet and TV are “always on”. I’ll admit an addiction to the History Channel though…

    Dave, RN wrote on September 28th, 2011
  38. Stop using porn. Have real sex instead… Easier said than done for some…

    In the absence of sex, I’d vote for abstinence anyday!

    Great post, but why read fiction when you could be telling stories!

    But obviously, there’s only a few people in a tribe with that kind of creative talent.

    All the standard Groks just bulls**t unconvincingly about the size of that boar they once killed with their bare hands… You know who you are…

    Leizi wrote on September 28th, 2011
  39. What a great post – and great comments! I’m going to start doing some of these suggestions right now. And I had what Oprah would call an “ah-ha” moment. If you’re regularly interacting with and getting along with your neighbors – in a face-to-face kinda way, rather than via phone or Facebook! – you’re WAY less likely to become one of those “you kids get off my grass” kind of cantankerous elders (or young’uns!). It’s the isolation that breeds the hostility, seems to me. We just aren’t meant to be holed up in our caves with our TVs…

    Susan Morgan wrote on September 28th, 2011

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