How do you view leisure? What is leisure, and what is its use? Is it a time to wind down, relax, and do nothing? Could it be used for entertainment or other such activities? Or is it for something more? What is the best and proper use of leisure in today's society?
Making sense of leisure
We often follow the word leisure with time. But what exactly does leisure time infer other than the words themselves? Rather than look at a typical definition for leisure, let's consider what one dictionary describes as its "essential meaning."
"Essential Meaning of leisure 1: time when you are not working : time when you can do whatever you want to do - In his leisure [=free time, spare time], he paints and sculpts. - I'd like to write more, but I simply don't have the leisure (to do it). 2: enjoyable activities that you do when you are not working - I don't have much time for leisure. - She leads a life of leisure. [=she does not have to work]." Merriam-Webster.com (2022)
Typical oversimplified definitions of leisure, such as "free time," do not do justice to the intent behind the word. Leisure is not for lying around doing nothing. It is time away from our regular job doing something we enjoy. Leisure is for being purposeful, doing what you want, which may occasionally be nothing.
As one of our nations founding fathers said:
"Leisure is the time for doing something useful. This leisure the diligent person will obtain, the lazy one never." - Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Yes, leisure means doing something - action, not inaction. Want further proof? Read the following words from one of Bernard Shaw's great lectures:
"Leisure, though the propertied classes give its name to their own idleness, is not idleness. It is not even a luxury: it is a necessity, and a necessity of the first importance. Some of the most valuable work done in the world has been done at leisure, and never paid for in cash or kind." Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Has such meaning changed in the past 100 years? No, it has not. Has it been distorted? Perhaps. Or perhaps it has been simply misunderstood.
All one has to do to understand the meaning behind the word leisure is to look again at Merriam-Webster's Essential Meaning to find what it represents today. Each of the two meanings shown above clearly tells us that leisure is doing something with your free or spare time when you are not working.
What have some of the greats said about leisure?
Although you may need no further convincing that many of us have an off-kilter view of the word leisure, let's look at what some of the greats of history have had to say about it. We will begin this journey nearly two and a half millennia ago. Read what one of the great Greek rhetoricians had to say about leisure:
"Spend your leisure time in cultivating an ear attentive to discourse, for in this way you will find that you learn with ease what others have found out with difficulty." - Isocrates (436-338 BC)
Isocrates certainly did not see leisure as just lying around! Moving through history to the time of Christ, we find the words of an ancient Roman poet:
"In our leisure we reveal what kind of people we are." Ovid (43 BC–17/18 AD)
Ovid's words ring true today, do they not? What we do with our time, whether work or leisure, reveals much about what we value as individuals. One of my favorite uses of leisure time is reading and writing. My use of leisure time has resulted in publishing on Medium almost daily, with this article being my 640th! If you wonder how I could have so much leisure time available, it helps to be mostly retired!
What is one of your favorite leisure activities? What does it create in or outside of you?
Moving from two thousand years ago to the birth of our nation, read another quote from one of our founding fathers about leisure:
"A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two [different] things." Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
There is no room for doubt in Franklin's remarks on the difference between leisure and laziness. He could not have stated it any clearer!
But what about in more recent times? Has it changed? Look at what the wife of the 32nd president of the United States had to say:
"If the use of leisure time is confined to looking at TV for a few extra hours every day, we will deteriorate as a people." Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
I must agree television adds little or no substance to our lives. I often refer to it as chewing gum for the brain, a phrase I picked up from one of my old mentors.
I love the way a well-known British polymath from the 20th century saw the importance of leisure in life:
"To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization." - Bertrand Russel (1872-1970)
We will end this section with a quote from a current American novelist and essayist who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, the National Humanities Medal in 2012, and the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction recently in 2016. It is obvious in her words she believes how we spend our leisure time makes a difference in our lives and is important!
"It's not a man's working hours that is important, it is how he spends his leisure time." Marilynne Robinson (1943-present)
I wanted to include many other great quotes in this article, but those used present plenty of evidence to make a case for purposely using our leisure time.
Why not choose to use your leisure time well? It can be helpful to fit in some rest and relaxation, especially when it allows you to recharge your body and mind through activities you enjoy. Anytime you use leisure activities to improve yourself and your life, you make the best possible use of your time.
I leave you with a final quote that sums up this article well. It is from the well-known British writer often referred to as Dr. Johnson because of the great respect he earned in his day:
"All intellectual improvement arises from leisure." - Samuel Johnson (1709-1794)
Why not become more purposeful in how you use your leisure time and improve your intellect! You will be forever grateful you did!