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. I used to forge steel. I don’t think it counts as primal, per say. But it sure is one of the most primal feelings I have ever had. You heat up a peice of steel until its red or white hot and then pound it with a hammer, sparks fling everywhere, sweat beading down your face as the heat blasts your skin. Man, I need to make the time to do that again.

    It’s crazy how hobbies go out the window once you become an adult.

    jordan wrote on September 28th, 2011
  2. Wow. This is such a fantastic post…and couldn’t have come at a better time. I guess a lot of people have commented similarly. I’ve always been a great couch potato, and it’s just gotten worse since I’ve gotten to college.

    Since I don’t really like the direction my life’s heading in (mostly due to laziness and complacency on my part) I’ve started becoming more active in all the different aspects of my life. I’ve taken up learning a new language, improving my abilities on the guitar and harmonica, as well as making myself spend more time writing. I’ve been trying to be more active physically, too. Not just ‘working out,’ mind you, but just getting outside and moving around during the day and seeing things.

    It’s hard, but I figure it’ll be worth it if I can look back years down the road and be satisfied that I made myself develop an ‘action habit,’ so to speak.

    Prehistoric Dog wrote on September 28th, 2011
  3. This is what we need more of: our own realities. Thanks again, Mark, for steering us in the right direction!

    Alexandra wrote on September 28th, 2011
  4. You make me glad I quite watching TV 14 years ago! Yep, we rent the occasional movie, but other than the ‘net (and obviously here I am), we entertain ourselves. So bravo!

    Kate (Cathy Johnson) wrote on September 28th, 2011
  5. I grew up in a household with no TV. It was awesome (even though then I thought it was so uncool). We played games – board games, all kinds of card games, etc., especially during the winter. We interacted, debated, and in general bonded and had fun. I had three younger brothers for whom I would write plays and then we would act them out for mom and dad. Most of our downtime was in the winter because we were self-sufficient, growing all our own food and hunting for our meat. We made our own maple syrup. All of this wasn’t necessarily fun then, but looking back I’m so glad I grew up as I did because now I have a whole lot of skills a ton of other people don’t (which makes me less of a victim should the world end someday). I think Grok’s fun may have had lessons to it – races to keep bodies primed for the hunt, games to keep the mind sharp, and so on. Just about anything can be “fun” if you make it so!

    Dawn wrote on September 28th, 2011
    • Wow that is so unusual and awesome. I just think of the things I could have done in my childhood without tv , probably would have learned to sew, learned another language fluently perhaps, etc..
      But whenever my Mom tried to restrict tv we would scream and holler :)

      Gayle wrote on September 29th, 2011
  6. I’m so glad I deleted my Facebook!

    I like the blog one, I very rarely leave comments or reply to comments of others. Maybe I’ll start leaving more.

    Also I’ve been thinking about going to a farmers market for my vege. Will start doing that too!

    I laughed at the last one, and joked, ” what if it’s ‘primal porn'”? Then thought I better not search that because it might be rather disgusting! Ahahahaha.

    Jesse wrote on September 29th, 2011
    • Good God I hate Facebook. People may think me the wierdest person on campus, but I just hate it so much! They should add a feature where you can not only add your friends but also add ‘enemies’ and write horrible stuff. As if it needed more stress inducing properties, haha!

      Milla wrote on September 29th, 2011
  7. Great stuff, everyone! I read through all of the comments.

    This is one of the areas I’m struggling with myself.

    I just order 4 functional anatomy books to start reading real books, not ebooks nor mere blogs. I’m a personal trainer, to specify. Doing this helps me eliminate a lot of computer time.

    Another thing I’ve been doing is a lot of networking. I have 4-5 networking events coming up and I have been meeting a bunch of people in person through Facebook. That has helped me increase my network with great people. So I can spend great time with more people in person.

    I also love fishing, but unfortunately haven’t done a lot of it. Walking in nature and exploring it is definitely another great thing to do.

    I also recommend people to volunteer for non-profit organizations. I’m currently involved only with Toastmasters Organization, but I want to find another one that has environment and health in their best interest.

    With my social network growing, I’m going to plan a lot of meetings to discuss training, nutrition, and lifestyle. I’m also going to hold board, card, and sport games at my place or elsewhere to be more active with friends.

    Risto Uuk wrote on September 29th, 2011
  8. Universally, all groups made work into entertainment. From barn raisings, quilting bees, community dances, they all featured physical work, teamwork, elaborate cooking and shared meals, socialization, and they were multigenerational.

    So my .02 is to contribute to community needs such as animal shelter volunteering, coaching people searching for jobs, mentoring students, volunteering to do house repairs for disabled and elderly folks, visiting those whose social needs aren’t being met (unable to drive or use public transportation, those who are shunned/ostracized), and putting your great health to work (the physical work helps others as it keeps you strong and flexible). The artificial creation of work via gyms and “workouts” is insanity in a world that’s crumbling due to a lack of workers.

    aek wrote on September 29th, 2011
    • Thank you!

      And I’ll add “youth sports” to your last sentence.

      How many people spend all their “free” time shuffling their kids back and forth from this game to that practice. They never see each other, never eat at home, don’t have time to help anyone else.

      Nicole wrote on September 29th, 2011
  9. TV off… check.
    Systematic purge of mindless facebook content…check.
    Dog… check and check.
    Real sex… check.

    I wish I could get more up-and-about time. I’m in college and a commuter, so I spend tons of time in the car, on the computer and sitting at a desk (not all three at once… yikes!) working on armloads of homework every day and it won’t be stopping any time soon. I’m working on cutting down my internet use to just emails, homework, and blogs.

    Kristina wrote on September 29th, 2011
  10. Yeah, I have not had a dog in many years. I am planning to adopt one in Fall/Winter 2012.
    I am just researching the breeds now. I really like dachshunds but I am still contemplating which breed will be best for me.

    Gayle wrote on September 29th, 2011
  11. You are awesome for this “More Dexter, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad”. My three favorite shows in one blog, epic!

    islyfe wrote on September 29th, 2011
  12. We don’t have a TV. We’re not some weirdos, though! Sometimes we watch some interesting stuff on the laptop. But just some minutes ago, my husband said: We have so much to do and so many interests and so many interesting books and a garden and two kids and friends and so on and so on – I have no idea how to fit in watching TV, too!

    Christa Meier wrote on September 29th, 2011
  13. I did not know there were Paleo meet-up groups! I was just wishing I knew people in the area who did Paleo/Primal (I have friends on it, but all out of state). Thank you for the links!! =)

    Tanya wrote on September 29th, 2011
  14. Well, I don’t have a tv, and my home computer has been off, since… a long ago. How good is that!

    Still sitting 7 hours a day is too much, but at least at home I can enjoy real communication with my family.

    What I do most of the time, except for cooking is just playing with, dancining, or reading to my 3yo son.

    I wish I was more physically active though.

    Elena wrote on September 29th, 2011
  15. Some great suggestions. And as I read it, I could not help but reflect on the current issue of childhood obesity. We got sent out to run and play all day all summer, or into the evening when school was in session. That does not happen any more for a variety of reasons, and it is showing in the lack of fitness and excess weight of our kids. It is also likely to manifest itself in the creativity they exhibit — we had to use our imaginations to keep ourselves entertained. Today so many kids don’t. They just flip on a gadget. Worse yet, if kids don’t develop an appreciation of nature and our environment, they aren’t likely to be motivated to preserve and protect it. See the book “Last Child In The Woods.”

    Dennis Blair wrote on September 29th, 2011
  16. Hey Mark. Excellent article! Life’s meant to be fun and active.

    Especially after spending 8 hours of my day behind a computer, I need to have some form of physical interaction with the world around me.

    Here’s to a more active life!

    Shaun wrote on September 30th, 2011
  17. I love tv, too much. I get addicted to it and all I want to do is watch tv. But I’ve found that I’m happier if I don’t watch a lot of tv, and much productive too. I just got married and we’ve decided on only an hour a day, 6 days a week, and not during dinner time. And I’ll add a couple hours a week on tv shows that only I watch. It’s going to be hard but I know it’ll be worthwhile.

    Jen wrote on October 3rd, 2011
  18. Just read this post and as you can see, I’m already acting on it by replying :-)
    I’m going to have two coffee dates with friends this weekend, as this post got me to go online on facebook (maybe not quite the point, but I don’t have everybodys phone numbers…)
    Have to say though, as has been pointed out further up, missing to list crafts surprised me, too. I have to make my own clothes because of my apparently not very standard figure, so I knit a lot and sometimes sew things, too, which keeps me “well” occupied while being “badly” occupied watching Star Trek. Hey, it’s winter- and the Christmas Market is closed, so no Glühwein available :-(

    Sabine wrote on November 24th, 2011
  19. Thank you, Mark, for the article & others for their words! I’m recovering from depression, on medication, family history, laid off from non-profit, etc., & was actually googling about how to literally get up out of bed when I ran across this (actually about reading & passive entertainment) – AND the most amazing thing happened – I literally felt my brain wake up! A tingling sensation at the tope of my head, over my right eye, & a sudden sharpening of my senses, & I could feel me feet. I think this woke me up, at last, & I’m so grateful now I’m crying! Oh praise the heavens, I’m crying again, shucks now I thought about it & it’s over, but the tingle in my legs remains & I’m about to get myself up & out of bed &, after bookmarking the site, tape off the TV & the books & make myself live again. Thank you all so very much.

    Lucy wrote on February 20th, 2012
  20. Why are there no outdoor activities or adventure sports listed at the end? Surely that is the most imortant and effective way to combat sedentary passive lifestyles.

    Instead of watching an adventure movie, why not go on a real adventure.

    spiraldive wrote on July 18th, 2012
  21. This is a good reminder to me how far I’ve come in a year! I’m stuck in the house healing my coccyx, and I’ve never been more bored in my life, although I have plenty of access to TV, internet and books. I need to get out of the house!!!

    Mary wrote on September 23rd, 2012
  22. I’ve been too busy to watch TV. Looking through my recordings I have 26 hours of shows I’ve just not had the time to watch. I used to catch up when I was sick, but having not so much as a cold in recent times I haven’t had that day or two in bed to marathon watch everything I’ve been missing.

    Morghan wrote on November 6th, 2012
  23. I plan on doing it by starting right now. Thanks for the boost! I’ll be back with an update on how it goes..!

    Lisa wrote on December 11th, 2013
  24. I´m really glad for this!
    Helped me out alot. Thanks

    gospelala wrote on January 16th, 2014

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