The hustle and bustle of city life on an average day may often reduce our daily activities to an “eat, work, sleep and repeat” routine. However, a new study suggests this may not be the accurate depiction of our days as we once thought.
A recent research project at McGill University in Canada has painted a different picture of an average day in human life, exploring how people spend their time across 58 countries. What the researchers found is quite enlightening.
You might be surprised to learn that most of our time during an average day is actually dedicated to activities we enjoy, even when working an average of 41 hours per week. Diving deeper, we spend roughly 3.4 hours each day making, cultivating, and caring for things.
This includes tasks ranging from house chores to professional responsibilities. Interestingly, we spend about 2.5 hours daily taking care of our personal hygiene.
“The single largest chunk of time is really focused on humans ourselves, a little more than nine hours,” shared Eric Galbraith, the study’s lead author.
According to Galbraith, out of these nine hours, we dedicate approximately 6.5 hours to activities that bring us joy, such as hanging out with friends, watching television, participating in sports, and other social activities.
To conduct this study, the research team analyzed national surveys, providing them with a snapshot of an average day for 60 per cent of the global population. Every aspect of individual behavior was carefully scrutinized, from mundane tasks like cleaning dirty surfaces to complex ones like petroleum processing.
Let’s explore an average day further. We spend just under an hour – 55 minutes to be precise – on meal preparation, encompassing everything from cooking to dish washing and clearing the table. In contrast, farming activities like fishing and crop production consume about 52 minutes of our day. Eating is a more time-consuming activity, taking up roughly 96 minutes of our daily schedule.
Maintaining our health and hygiene, including showering, takes about 2.5 hours of our time. And as for waste management, it hardly takes more than a few minutes.
It’s important to note that these are average estimates, and individual routines can vary significantly. For instance, Galbraith cites sleep as a clear example.
While the average amount of sleep clocked is around nine hours, this can range from as much as 11 hours for children to a shorter 7.5 hours for adults. “It also includes time in bed and not sleeping, which can be as much as one hour per day,” he adds.
The study also highlights the influence of cultural and economic disparities between countries on these average day routines. For example, while the average individual spends around 12 minutes daily engaged in religious practices, this could differ dramatically depending on the country’s dominant faith.
Similarly, the time spent on energy extraction, which averages around 2.4 minutes daily, might not apply to several African and Middle-Eastern countries. These nations were unfortunately left out from the study due to insufficient data.
Professor Galbraith noted, “There are some things that vary a lot based on income and cultural differences. For example, people in poor countries spend a lot of time farming, unlike in wealthy countries.”
Differences of an average day also extend to time spent on meal preparation, which can range from a quick half hour to almost triple that amount. However, Galbraith pointed out that “for a lot of things—like how much time people spend moving from place to place—there is very little difference between countries.”
In sum, this study underscores the complexities of daily human routines and the numerous factors, including culture and income, that influence how we spend our time.
Maintaining a balance between work and personal life on average days is crucial for mental health. This balance allows individuals to manage stress, maintain relationships, and pursue interests outside of work, all of which contribute to overall well-being. When this balance is disrupted, it can lead to numerous mental health issues.
High levels of work-related stress can cause a wide range of mental health problems. These include anxiety, depression, burnout, and sleep disorders. When work consumes most of a person’s time and energy, it often leaves little space for relaxation, physical activity, socialization, and other activities that are essential for mental health.
Moreover, chronic work-related stress can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia. Lack of adequate sleep on average days can exacerbate anxiety and depression symptoms and impair cognitive functions like attention, memory, and decision-making.
Work-life imbalance can also harm personal relationships. When individuals don’t have enough time to spend with their loved ones or engage in social activities, feelings of isolation and loneliness can ensue. These feelings, over time, can increase the risk of mental health disorders.
Moreover, individuals who don’t have time for self-care practices—such as exercise, hobbies, mindfulness, or relaxation techniques—may struggle to manage stress and negative emotions effectively on average days. Over time, this can lead to burnout, a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by feelings of cynicism and detachment from work.
Conversely, maintaining a healthy work-life balance contributes to better mental health. It allows for sufficient rest and relaxation, helps individuals recharge, and provides opportunities for enjoyable activities and social interaction. Furthermore, a good work-life balance can enhance job satisfaction and productivity, creating a positive feedback loop that further supports mental health.
Therefore, employers and policymakers have a vital role in promoting work-life balance through flexible work arrangements, adequate leave policies, and a culture that values and respects employees’ time outside work. Meanwhile, individuals can also develop skills such as time management, assertiveness, and stress management to better maintain their work-life balance.
It’s essential to remember that mental health is multifaceted, and while work-life balance is a significant factor, it’s not the only one. Genetic predisposition, personal resilience, social support, and access to mental health services are also crucial components of mental health.