The quest for leisure time



Column Philip Timmerman. Email [email protected].

Americans, it seems to me, have a strange notion that leisure is a bad thing.

We think of leisure in negative terms, as a kind of void in between work — time that could have been spent, but instead was wasted. We end the weekend bewailing how poorly we used our time and how much we could have accomplished had we only had the discipline or presence of mind to do so.

Far from appreciating it, we feel guilty about leisure. We feel guilty because it puts a stop to the otherwise ceaseless march of progress.

But who cares?

Why does this even matter? Because progress is the American’s primary motivator.

No one asks, “What are we progressing toward?” They only ask, “Are we progressing?”

Yes is good, no is bad. Work is good, leisure is bad. The problem with this frame of mind, however, is that as obsessed as we are with running faster and longer, it never occurred to us that we might be on a treadmill.

Furthermore, if we ever stop running long enough to actually ask ourselves where we’re going, that is, what we want from life, we typically say something of this sort: “Well, I guess all I really want is a comfortable house, a decent car, weekends to go fishing with my friends, enough money to take a nice vacation, nothing crazy.”

This is leisure. We want leisure.

So here is the paradox: We are slaves to progress, running tirelessly for fear of an instant of inactivity, but when someone asks why we are running, we answer, “So that we can stand still.”

Some, realizing this, immediately stop dead in their tracks. You can see them sitting on their front porches during the day, complaining about the government.

My advice: Keep running. Just step off the treadmill.