Our life span is really only 17.5 years

by | Oct 9, 2017 | Time

Takeaway: The average life expectancy in the US is 79.3 years, but if you subtract from that time the tasks we are obligated to do, such as sleep and work, we can be left with as few as 17.5 years.

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In the US, the average life expectancy is 79.3 years (76.9 years for men and 81.6 years for women). This is a decent amount of time, but I’d argue this number doesn’t give us the complete picture.

According to the most recent American Time Use Survey, here’s how the average employed person spends each day:

  • 7.8 hours sleeping
  • 8.8 hours working
  • 1.8 hours on household activities
  • 1.0 hours eating and drinking
  • 1.2 hours caring for others
  • 1.5 hours on “‘Other

At the end of the day, this leaves just 2.6 hours to spend how we choose.

Let’s look at these numbers from a slightly different vantage point.

While our life expectancy is 79.3 years, when we spend an average 7.8 hours of each day sleeping, that adds up to a cumulative 25.8 years of our life. Put this way, our life expectancy is now down to 53.5 years.

Let’s assume we consider a few items on this list to be inconveniences—work, household chores, and maybe even eating and drinking. Maybe you dread these commitments, or rush through them to get on with your day. Over the course of your life you’ll spend 6.9 years doing chores and chowing down food, and 29.1 years working. When you subtract these from our average life span, our life expectancy is now down to just 17.5 years.

To quote author Annie Dillard (again), how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Whenever we simply go through the motions, or live without intention, we’re not spending our time how we truly want, or fully enjoying where we’re at.

Here’s another fun thought experiment. Imagine that instead of living your life one day at a time, you lived it sequentially: first spending 26 years hibernating sleeping, then 4 years cleaning your house, 3 years eating and drinking, 29 years working, and finally, 4 years with friends and family. Would you be happy with how you spent your life? Would you want more family time, or wish you had found your dream job sooner?

We can get even a bit more granular. Maybe if you were to live this way, you’d spend 3 years working out at the gym, followed by 5 years daydreaming, 3 years struggling to get out of bed in the morning, 1 year hungover, 4 years on Facebook, and then half a year meditating. Would you wish anything had been different?

These are just thought experiments, but they’re helpful exercises that let us question whether we’re spending our time how we want.

There are a few points to take away here:

  1. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Thirty minutes of wasted time every day adds up. Time is the most valuable resource we have—we can increase our energy levels and earn more money, but time is finite.
  2. Enjoy the moment! Impatience wishes away time. When you rearrange the blocks of your life, you may have less time than you think. Enjoy it! This is why I love meditation and mindfulness—both practices anchor you to the present moment, and let you appreciate events as they unfold.
  3. Spend your time as you like. This advice is cliché, but it’s still something to consider. If you held the total time spent on a daily task across the balance of your life, would you be happy with how you spent those hours? Would you regret doing too much of anything, or not enough of something else?

The average person gets 79.3 years to live their life. Given that time is the most limited resource we have, it’s critical that we spend our limited hours purposefully, and doing what we enjoy.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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