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The Life of Leisure

The Life of Leisure

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have a vision in my head. I’m an older man, maybe in my late fifties or early sixties. I’m sitting at a long table, my family is surrounding me, and my wife is by my side. It’s a sunny day and the table is situated in a vineyard or a field. Everyone is laughing. The food on the table is plentiful and beautifully fresh: pasta, salads, charcuterie, maybe a tartar, and a perfectly cooked steak with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and arugula. A bottle of Italian or California red wine is being passed around. We’re all drinking out of small glasses, not classic wine stems. My son is toasting our family, and I’m beaming with pride watching him. I feel at ease, completely content with what I’ve been able to accomplish in my life. My eyes meet my wife’s, and she smiles because she feels it, too. Worry isn’t present and work is far from my mind. My only concern is when I’ll sneak in my afternoon nap and how many games of backgammon we can get in before nightfall.

Tomorrow we’ll do it all over again.

Sounds amazing, no? I think so. But something interesting has been happening. The older I get, the more this vision evolves. While it used to represent a time period, a retirement of sorts into a life of leisure, today it represents a moment in time, one of many pinnacle moments I hope to experience in my life. But still a moment, not a sustained period, not something I’ll experience every day.

But why?

Simply put, the sweet ain’t as sweet without the sour. Your leisure time isn’t nearly as enjoyable without hard work. While I often wish I had more time to relax and take it easy, when I do have too much free time, I don’t know what to do with it. At first, that worried me, but apparently, I’m not alone. According to Psychology Today, “In comparison to work, people often lack a clear purpose when spending time at home with the family or alone. The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it. Yet the evidence suggests the opposite: Free time is more difficult to enjoy than work.” It turns out, leisure time requires a work. Ugh.

In the modern world, we spend most of our free time on three activities: consuming media, conversing, and “active leisure,” which includes hobbies, making music, going to restaurants, partaking in sports, and exercise. The potential for enjoyment with the use of your free time is very much tied to the activities you choose and the effort you put into them. Media consumption is like the chocolate cake of free time. You enjoy it in the beginning, but the more you consume, the less enjoyable it becomes. Yet, just like obesity, we’re spending more and more time consuming media, like social applications and television. While conversing and interaction with others will generally make a positive impact on your life, it’s also the most unpredictable. Without a doubt, you should make an ongoing effort to be part of a social community, but you shouldn’t rely on that community to provide enjoyment because interactions will be both positive and negative over time. Therefore the enjoyment of our leisure time and the realization of peak experiences in our life are most likely to come from taking part in active leisure. The pursuit of hobbies and activities, from art to soccer to singing, that we enjoy, are relatively skilled at, and are continuously challenged by.

Up until recently, the majority of people often only had the time outside their jobs to explore their true purpose and maximize their fulfillment. With the arrival of the Age of Ideas, the lines have been blurred between work and leisure, with the two rapidly integrating. Therefore, we must make more of an effort to fill our work and our leisure time with interesting and challenging activities to ensure that we garner the most enjoyment from our lives. Instead of dreaming of someday living a life of leisure we now have the opportunity to realize our best life today, all we must do is understand how.

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