Escapism: How We Shape Ourselves through our Selected Vices

Escapism: How We Shape Ourselves through our Selected Vices

The role of escapism in our culture seems to be one that continues to consume more of our time as we develop technologies and infrastructure that create abundance of the necessities of life. Spending hours traversing a fantasy world in a video game, or similar lengths of time enthralled in romance novels may not have been options for the majority of humans just a few decades ago. Not having as many distractions may have been one of the factors that allowed humans to be more physically capable hunters in the past. This is because they were probably able to rest more effectively when they did not need to hunt for food.

Stopping or reversing the development of technology, however, does not seem like a valid option today. For this reason, we should understand the possible advantages and disadvantages that may come from dissociating from our reality. Over the course of this article we will aim to quantify more clearly what escapism is, how it can shape our life, and the ways we may be lying to ourselves about how we perceive our behavior and health.

What is Escapism?

Escapism as defined by psychologists, Escapism in Psychology: Healthier Types of Distractions (, is “when a person routinely uses an activity or behavior to escape life’s realities. It is a way of distracting the mind. Examples include social media, substance use, or playing games to avoid thinking about or facing something else, such as a relationship conflict or a stressful assignment deadline.” 

What people consider escapism varies from individual to individual. Although, most people would probably agree that seeking a form of distraction from work or other responsibilities is a form of escapism. For example, choosing to read a few romance novels by the pool instead of finishing a presentation for work can be one way that we might indulge in escapism by seeking a distraction. Many people even use movement and exercise as a way to cope with anxiety and avoid boredom.

However, what many people may fail to realize is that even the words we choose to use can either intentionally or unintentionally distort our perspective and cause us to have a less precise understanding of reality. In many instances, it seems people prefer to romanticize reality and escape the more objective and possibly boring analysis of their life.

Abstract words like "love" and "freedom" are often used to create an ideal imagined reality. In romance novels, this is encouraged, as the distraction can become more immersive if you choose to imagine the scenario in your head. The less precise and further removed from measurable and scientific language we use, the more is left open to interpretation both by the speaker and listener.

"A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness."

-Alfred Korzybski, "Science and Sanity"


This quote describes how we use language as symbols like maps, representing reality but not being identical to it. Accuracy is crucial, as effective navigation of reality requires accurate maps. Similarly, effective communication and thought formation will need precision.

Vices can Carve Your Character

When people say, “You are what you eat,” they are referring to the food you choose, creating the body you will see. Most of us would intuitively understand that binging pizza and ice cream may cause us to gain excess body fat, but what might puzzle some of us, is how our thoughts can shape our structure as well. 

Thoughts influence our behaviors and the way we solve problems. Our experiences and environment will play a large factor in how our body develops. 

Correlates of body mass index and overweight and obesity of children aged 2 years: findings from the healthy beginnings trial - PubMed (

Observing children as young as 2 years old already showed a positive correlation between having a higher BMI or being closer to obesity and more screen time. If we allow our vices to consume our time, distracting us from the discomfort of boredom or unpleasant feelings from doing nothing, we create a behavioral association that hinders the development of new skills and talents. This avoidance may ultimately impede our long-term improvement and growth.

Although increased television viewing times were correlated with higher obesity rates, there does also appear to be a positive correlation between playing certain video games and increased gray matter development.

Playing Super Mario induces structural brain plasticity: gray matter changes resulting from training with a commercial video game - PubMed (

The development of gray matter in the brain is usually related to more neuroplasticity and ability to adapt or learn new things. This study however, does not control for enough variables to conclude that video games are inherently useful or harmful. There is also the amount of time, frequency, and type of game played to consider when it comes to deciding whether playing a video game can actually be used to train your brain, or if it is being used as another way to escape reality. 


Using abstract language makes it easier for us to delude ourselves and create fantasy worlds in our imagination. When people use abstract terms, they may believe they are communicating ideas or emotions that are challenging to define more objectively, but this can easily become a way of avoiding the work necessary to be more accurate in most instances.

It seems that people avoid this type of work to feel good in the short term and possibly to fit in with others by using slang or other terms they may not fully grasp. While there may be learning opportunities in some video games and even reading romance novels, there is far more predictability in becoming more scientific with our language. Using more calculated language will allow us to tune into the boredom more effectively and begin regenerating at more fundamental levels, like many animals in nature seem to do, once we eliminate the stress of our miscalculations.


  2. Korzybski, A. (1933). Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics. New York: Institute of General Semantics.


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