I believe in leisure. I believe in it enough to write a book about it. But my leisure isn’t everyday leisure: it’s a process and a discipline, not a category of action or repose.
Leisure, as I understand it, can be anything from a simple, lazy swing in the hammock to an all-consuming, massively organized run for the Presidency. Because it’s different for each of us, the choice of leisure expresses both liberty and identity. For others, my choice may seem a waste of time, or a grueling endeavor, but it’s what it does for me that matters. I can invest in the risky growth of leisure, or the security and comfort of recreation. Either may be found in the hammock — or anywhere else – it depends on the person.
Because we often think of leisure as what we do when we’re not working, it’s commonly confused with recreation. For me, on or off the job, work is any activity of sheer drudgery, while recreation is comfort ritual and leisure is discovery play. These distinctions are crucial, and easily missed because no action is pure. Instead, the major element – comfort, discovery, or the grind — defines the action, and the relative balance is fluid. We may not be aware when something like batting or acting practice changes from recreation — or even work — to discovery, because its often only in reflection that we appreciate how – all of a sudden – time slowed and vision sharpened, and we were able to see the ball or the audience, and how our body had to move just so. Then, for a little while, we play as masters in a larger space with better tools, until we grow accustomed to the new, and discovery becomes comfort once again.
Through this progressive pattern of growth and consolidation, excellence is at last achieved. Leisure, writ large, is the process whereby individual excellence builds culture – those accumulated superlatives that define a people or an age. Most of us never approach excellence. The discipline, and the risk to identity begin to seem too great — so we settle at a lesser, comfortable level. But if we’d think more carefully about leisure, we might make better, bolder choices, live more fulfilled lives, and increase the amount of excellence in the world. That’s why I’m writing my book, and why I write here.
So, in a nutshell, what is this leisure I believe in? To me, leisure is an alternative investment strategy for human capital that, through an evolutionary, iterative sequence of discovery play, results in the enduring set of human excellences known as culture. In other words, I believe that leisure is the single most important idea in all of economics and human behavior, and if that weren’t enough, it’s what makes life fun. I hope the free time you spent on this essay led to some discovery – for me it was mostly comfort, but time well spent anyway. This, I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.