Despite all the classes we take, degrees we get, documentaries we watch, most of us never get the word about a remedy as key to health and happiness as watching cholesterol or eating the right food. It's the invisible cure for a host of our problems, from stress to obesity to loneliness.
Stanford Medical School's Mark Cullen found out what happens to people who ignore this over-the-counter tonic. He found in his research that successful men were reduced to feeling "they were nothing," once they walked out the door to retirement. They had no worth beyond job performance, and they were missing a resource they couldn't live without. "They had no leisure skills," said Cullen. They didn't know how to live. Single-minded focus on production left them unequipped to enjoy the life they theoretically worked for. Many died early deaths.
Leisure skills? What's that? Microwave popcorn popping? Isometric finger exercises for the remote? That's probably what many of these execs would have thought and had a good guffaw over in the myopia of their working days. That attitude doomed them to a life without living.
When you don't have leisure skills, what do you do? Flip on the TV. The average state of someone watching TV is a mild depression, reports Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, author of "Finding Flow" and the pioneering authority on optimal experience. A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for heart disease and other serious health problems. A recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that men who spend 23 or more hours a week sitting, watching TV or glued to car seats, had a 64 percent greater chance of fatal heart disease than those who only logged 11 hours or less per week on their butts. That could well be a bigger problem, since some 78 percent of Americans over age 30 don't get any exercise, according to Census Bureau statistics and Seppo Iso-Ahola of the University of Maryland.