For many years now, I have hated completely free time — time where I am doing nothing. Time that I could potentially be doing something with, but am doing nothing. Time away from work, time away from books, time away from interesting ideas, time away from talking to the people I care about, time away from exercise — I hate it.
For many people, leisure is not having to do anything. For such people, work is the opposite of leisure. And anything they do can be classified as either work or leisure, depending on the motivation for doing it. Reading a book can be considered leisure, but reading the same book with a goal set for completing it in a week can be work. Traveling to a new place can be leisure. But traveling to a new place with the goal of visiting a new place every month can be work.
Basically, leisure is when they do something voluntarily, unencumbered by anyone or anything, not against any timeline, with nothing else on their mind that is distracting them from it.
This is indeed leisure to me. But it is also deep work at the same time.
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, wrote more than forty years ago now: “We think of leisure as the privilege of those who can afford to take time (this endless taking!) — when in reality it isn’t a privilege at all. Leisure is a virtue, and one that anyone can acquire. It is not a matter of taking but of giving time. Leisure is the virtue of those who give time to whatever it is that takes time — give as much time to it as it takes.”
Leisure is the virtue of those who give time to whatever it is that takes time — give as much time to it as it takes.
If reading a book takes twenty hours and I give it all of that time, not thinking about how I ought to finish it in ten in order to stay on track to reading fifty two books a year, then I’m in leisure. However, if that thought crosses my mind as I sit down to read, and I hurry up and read faster than usual to stay on track for my goal, then I’m not in leisure.
Which is why I have long since moved away from wanting to achieve the goals I set for myself at any cost. Because achieving them means absolutely nothing if I’m not doing them in leisure.
This thinking can be misconstrued in two ways.
First, this doesn’t mean that setting goals is a bad thing. In fact, it is extremely good. Setting goals and prioritizing aspects of our lives helps us ensure that we are spending our time in leisure on the things that are really important to us.
Second, doing things in leisure doesn’t mean that taking our own sweet time to do it. It just means that we give as much time as is needed to do that task without worrying about anything else that we might miss out on doing with that time. If we take forty hours to read a book that we can usually read in twenty, that is not leisure. That is slack. That is laziness.
Our purpose in life is to be happy. And doing everything we do in leisure is the best way to be happy. And the best way to manage to do that is to meticulously plan, set goals, and prioritize.
That’s the simple recipe for happiness.
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