The broadcaster, 63, said that while he was "not arguing in favour of national service", he would "have done better for having time in uniform".
He told the Radio Times that "I love this country and very often we don't know how lucky we are", but said that it was difficult to imagine a society where people lived not just for personal pleasure.
Paxman, who wrote Great Britain's Great War and is presenting an accompanying BBC1 series, said: "Can you imagine living in a trench in this weather? .
"It's such an imaginative leap from our cosseted, indulged lives to something other than the achievement of personal pleasure. That's why people find it so hard to come to terms with the war."
Paxman said that he had become "annoyed" by the "assumptions" made about the First World War, that it was a "pointless sacrifice".
He added: "It ill behoves those of us accustomed to going abroad for pleasure and living our lives for self-fulfilment to imagine how and why these people responded."
He said of his own life: "I'd have done better for having time in uniform.
"I'm not arguing in favour of national service, but I feel in awe of my parents' generation who had to do that.
"Obviously I'm not wishing war on anyone, but it might have been better for all of us if we'd been obliged to do something rather than choosing for ourselves.
"It's difficult to comprehend today a society where people were expected to do things other than gratify themselves."