Too many Americans are happily entertaining themselves into misery. As a nation, we spend millions of dollars and countless hours each month on entertainment. The amount of time we spend learning and interacting with people is declining while our ability to think deeply and find satisfaction in daily living are going down with it.
Years ago, my friend Tom Murphy and I came up with a simple ratio that seemed to tell us a great deal about how a person was functioning in their professional life and personal life. We called it the EVE ratio. EVE is an acronym that stands for your "Education versus Entertainment." It is the ratio of the dollars, and time, a person spends on education and personal growth versus the dollars and time spent on entertainment each month.
It can be a stunning and sobering exercise to add up how much time and how much money you spend each month on entertainment — especially in contrast to how much you might spend reading, learning and interacting with people. I would often suggest that my clients take stock of their EVE ratio and then ask themselves, "Am I spending my time and money on activities that are tension-relieving or goal-achieving?"
The best counterbalance to an entertainment culture are people and books. Charlie "Tremendous" Jones once wrote, "You will be much the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read." In a world dominated by images on screens, videos and memes we are producing more swipers, clickers and passive watchers than readers and writers. Taking time to read isn't just for the very old and the very young — reading can make a difference for everyone.
Few people continue to read and learn once they stop their formal education even though life-long learners live better, earn more and have more satisfaction in their lives and work.
Alice Meecham got it right when she said, "Books may be the only true magic on earth."
There truly is magic within the pages of great books.
The answers to the challenges of life may not be found in the books you read, but often the answers come from what you discover about yourself as you interact with great principles and great personalities.
James Elroy Flecker wrote, "Since I can never see your face, And never shake you by the hand, I send my soul through time and space, To greet you. You will understand."
Through great books we can connect to great minds and amazing people from the past and the present. President Abraham Lincoln was born in an era and a culture where the written word had no rival. For Lincoln, words, in whatever book he could obtain, were the instrument by which he came to know himself and define what he believed.
What was the last good book you read? Can you remember? If not, it may be time for you to carve out a little bit of time to re-engage in reading. Audio books and podcasts are great, but there is something unique and magical about reading a book.
If you aren't sure where to begin your new pursuit of books, here are a few suggestions: Read fiction to develop your creativity, expand your own writing ability and improve your visualization skills. Read nonfiction to think more strategically, improve specific skills and increase your knowledge base. Read biographies of great people to learn what it takes to overcome challenges or weaknesses to achieve greatness. Read histories to understand cultures and the unique gifts of people around the world.
Real, live interaction with people is the other balancer to the entertainment culture. Our technology has created infinite connections, yet more and more Americans feel isolated and alone. Simple conversations, eating dinner together as a family, walking around the neighborhood, gathering to celebrate a birthday or special occasion — all create connections that transcend technology and entertainment.
Certainly, there is value and a positive return on entertainment — it can relieve stress, create joy, build relationships. The challenge is that our entertainment continues to become more passive and less personal.
The key is to keep your EVE ratio in balance with activities that challenge you to learn and grow. And when you can combine entertainment and education with the important people in your life, you will experience extraordinary moments of true magic.
If in five years from now, you will be pretty much the same person as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read, what kind of person will you be in 2023? It is a question worth pondering and a learning path worth pursuing.