Philosophy Power Hour: “Wasting Time”

I apologize for starting with an existential crisis inducing paragraph, but if you are anything like me, this will not be new territory for you.

One day, you will die. Between then and now is all the time that you will ever have here, on this earth. You can not bargain for more, and you can not stop spending it at any time. Even the time you are spending reading these words is time that you will never get back. Therefore, the time that you spend doing things is an incredibly important transaction.
So if you will so indulge yourself, let us explore the different ways to value that spending of time. Do you use it for yourself? Or for others? And what is even wasting your time?

If you only have a limited amount of time, you surely want to get the most out of your time for yourself. That seems simple if you assume human nature is that of selfishness. You could value hedonism and spend your time seeking out the most amount of pleasure for yourself at any given time. You could become a Renaissance man who tries to become skilled at as many things as that interest you, or you could become an expert in an activity or area of knowledge to gain satisfaction with yourself. You could even just work on surviving and improving your life.

Is that moral? Can people cast their focus from others to turn inwards towards themselves? Can people cast aside a base urge of altruism, even the act of helping their friends? While you could seek pleasure for yourself, you could be inflicting pain as a byproduct. While you could seek satisfaction, you could be helping others survive. While you could work for yourself, you could be helping multiple other people. The idea that you could better spend your time helping others rather than yourself hangs over some people’s heads which creates guilt for doing things for themselves.
However, that guilt can easily become all-consuming where people turn their lives into a “happiness pump,” a philosophical idea where altruists make themselves suffer to improve the lives of others. A common criticism of philosophies centered only on making the maximum good in the world is that happiness pumps are not as effective in being altruistic. If someone gives their entire paycheck away, then they are not going to have the materials to eat to gain energy to work to be able to support themselves or continue helping the world. If people instead only paid what they could afford, they can contribute to making the world better by contributing more than one small sum or by providing for themselves instead of placing themselves in need of assistance.
While that seems like an obvious idea, people do not always translate that to less physical transactions of time and emotion. If someone spends all their extra time volunteering for charities or even to make their friends’ lives better, then they will not have the time to care for themselves. That person could last for years or even decades in a burnt-out state of not taking the time for themselves, but they are not going to be doing what they want to be doing. No one who has shown up to school with one hour of sleep from doing an assignment last minute did their work to their best ability because of their lack of sleep. Ignoring emotional self-care by not taking time for yourself does the same thing. It deprives you of your best ability in anything that you do.

That’s why the idea that someone not doing an activity is laziness or “wasting time” is dumb. Time needs to be taken to decompress, have fun, and take care of yourself. No matter what society says you should be doing or should be acting like. Of course, this can be taken too far, especially when what you do to take care of yourself interferes with what you want or need to do. We do not want to let the world burn around us while we are drinking water to stay hydrated. It kind of comes down to a balancing act between what you feel like you should and can do for the world, and what you need to do for yourself.