“And happiness is thought to depend on leisure; for we are busy that we may have leisure…”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Most of us can benefit from taking some time to think about the nature of leisure and its place in our lives. Let us begin with a distinction to help us think more clearly about this.
Two Meanings of ‘Leisure:’
Here are two meanings of leisure:
1. Leisure activities (broad sense, common usage): activities we do when free from the demands of work or other obligations. Today this often takes the form of what Aristotle would call ‘amusement’—various activities we do because they are enjoyable or fun. Examples can include simply relaxing, watching a movie, playing a game, eating-out, or a whole set of things coming under the name of ‘entertainment.’
2. Leisure activities (more proper usage, such as in Aristotle): activities pursued primarily as meaningful in themselves as opposed to for their products or results. For Aristotle, this is the primary kind of activity to be contrasted with ‘work,’ and it is richer and more fulfilling than amusement. These activities might not be those that today we associate with free time, and they might even be hard for us to conceive or picture. Main examples are activities that are ‘contemplative’ in nature, exercising our higher faculties, and they can be done alone or as a powerful way of being present with those we love.
Two Assertions about Leisure:
Now two assertions:
1. While most people regularly have and enjoy leisure in the broad sense, leisure in the proper sense is surprisingly rare and requires intentional cultivation.
2. Leisure in the proper sense, which is cultivated through study, discipline, and practice, is a key to friendships, home life, and more generally to happiness. It is this leisure that Josef Pieper famously called ‘the basis of culture.’
It is my purpose here and in several forthcoming reflections on leisure to give a foundation for examining how we spend our ‘free time’—including what we might do to spend it better. According to Aristotle, it is in such time especially that we develop and express the fullness of our humanity.
This is the first in a series of Wednesday Quotes on leisure. Read more below!
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 Nicomachean Ethics is his major ethical work.
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Hiking in the woods, fishing, hunting, yes even watching a baseball game, with or without others, a picnic with family and friends, can be leisure properly enjoyed. Why? These activities all give you plenty of time to reflect on God, Life, family, friends and why we work. We all have a why we work. We need to keep that in the front of our minds, to help us stay focused.
Time and decompression through these leisure activities is essential to living, not just going through the motions or surviving and progressing every day.
Did the home team win? Did you catch any fish? Did you bag any game? Nope! It was still a good day. I talked with God; I relaxed in his outdoors; I talked with family; I talked with friends; I thought deeply. I gave others time.
Thank you, Patrick! There is something especially powerful about fishing isn’t there?
Knitting is my everyday leisure. When I see I made a mistake a few rows back I must un-knit sometimes up to 200+ stitches, but that gives me a chance to pray for and practice patience. My guardian angel is expecially good at this because often when un-knitting I see another mistake that would otherwise have gone unnoticed until it was too late. Thanks, GA! Knitting an item for myself is good, but to knit for a gift is best. Even better is to knit an especially beautiful something for charity.
Amen on the knitting, especially for others. That’s beautiful.
I’m looking forward to this series! Thank you!
I too! Thanks.
Great series Dr. Cuddeback! May I add that I particularly enjoy how music can, I believe, cross all of the definitions of work, leisure and amusement. In particular, a student may consider the practicing of an instrument to be an obligation (my children may say work!). But the music teacher often hopes that the student progresses in their mastery of the instrument so that the exercise becomes more enjoyable, perhaps leisurely.
Thanks Mark, this is a great point. I plan next week to note how Aristotle includes music as an important part of leisure.