“Leisure is better than work and is its end; and therefore the question must be asked, what ought we to do when at leisure? Clearly we ought not to be amusing ourselves, for then amusement would be the end of life…”
Aristotle, Politics

Sometimes a distinction in terms or words helps us see a distinction in reality that had escaped us. Aristotle is careful to distinguish leisure and amusement. Both should be distinguished from work inasmuch as they each refer to something we do when we are not working. Yet therein ends their similarity.

Amusement is an activity that diverts the mind by something pleasant, as when we play a game or watch a movie. This entails a resting from things onerous or serious. Amusement is, in a sense, enjoyable in itself, but its main justification and purpose is to be a relaxation that regenerates us for a return to work and to more serious affairs.

Leisure on the other hand is serious and meaningful in itself. It is not so much a resting from something as a resting in something. Unlike work and amusement, leisure contains its primary purpose in what is being done. Here we see a conviction central to Aristotle’s conception of human life: there are certain actions that are worthy-in-themselves, and in these especially is human life most fully lived.

To lose sight of these, and to reduce free time simply or primarily to amusement, is to threaten human existence at its core by removing the deepest meaning of both work and amusement.

Amusement activities have an important place; pleasant diversions are often in order. But they are not the real stuff of leisure. Aristotle writes, “Happiness, therefore, does not lie in amusement; it would, indeed, be strange if the end were amusement, and one were to take trouble and suffer hardship all one’s life in order to amuse oneself.”

The point here is certainly not to suggest that we shouldn’t ‘have a good time’ or that we must always be ‘serious.’ Rather, human life is so rich, so wonderful—and yes also so arduous—that there clearly is something much better than mere amusement that gives meaning to it all. There is some kind of ‘having a good time,’ that far transcends mere amusement. Yet unlike amusement, it will require cultivation, discipline, and a clear conception of what we are after.


Next week we will consider leisure activities themselves. This is the second in a series on leisure.


Leisure Mini-Series

I. The Leisure Question: A Series

II. The Difference Between Leisure and Amusement

III: Fostering Leisure

IV: An Amazing Connection: Education and Leisure


Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Politics is one of his major ethical works.

Join the Community.

Become a LifeCraft Member and gain access to our online courses and exclusive content. It's FREE of charge. Period.

If you join as a contributing member, you will help make this content available to an increasing audience and enable me to spend more time in this work. I thank you in advance.

Join the LifeCraft community today and get access to:

  • Man of the Household (Course)
  • Woman of the Household (Course)
  • Concepts Made Clear (Mini-course)
  • Dinner at Home (Mini-course)
Need: The Hidden Key to Wealth

Need: The Hidden Key to Wealth

“Well, you see, my property is enough to supply me with all my needs...” Socrates, in Xenophon’s Estate Manager While Socrates was not destitute, the value of his estate was relatively low. Yet he expresses gratitude for his financial situation. He assures his friend...

read more
Something I Owe My Wife

Something I Owe My Wife

  “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs Our failure to see the natural roles of husband and wife has real consequences. This stands to reason. When we miss the difference and...

read more
Make Beauty, Rediscover Humanity

Make Beauty, Rediscover Humanity

“Beautiful things are those which please when seen.” Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae This much is clear if we have eyes to see: beauty is a first principle in the formation of the world. We could even say it is the principle. The natural world and all its processes...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest