A LEISURE TO CALL YOUR OWN
WORDS BY JULIAN RONEY
It is all too common to talk about a ‘work-life balance.’ In many cases, it’s a distinction between the things we choose to do from those we don’t. Life is about leisure and play, it’s an opportunity to identify with our own freedom and undertake ‘meaning-giving’ activities. But how much of what you choose to do with your free time is actually determined by your work life? Would you choose the same ‘life’ if it was not always weighted in a balancing act?
There is a philosophy of leisure which suggests not. It proposes that the common distinction between leisure and labor is not a question of choosing between freedom and unfreedom; that the former is determined according to the demands of the latter. In its grand application, the theory of free time is a critique of the pervasiveness of the labor system and how it comes to structure our personal lives at the end of the working day. More fundamentally, the philosophy of leisure poses a problem of free-will. It asks you to think about whether the activities that make up your life after-hours are meaningfully yours, or whether these have just been provided to you.
We all want to say that we have chosen our past-times freely. Either that or we reconcile with the fact that the delights of our free time are meaningful irrespective of the path that led us to them. But what are the real consequences of this? How are they even measureable? It is strange that boredom should be such a restless state of mind, especially given how precious a commodity free time has become. It is clear that we do not value inactivity- we prefer expending our efforts on mindless preoccupations over doing nothing at all. Our inability to relax is a symptom of how we approach our work life; that this mindset carries over into our leisure time, shows us what is really disguised in the distinction between labor and leisure. These two activities are not as independent as we assume.
“It is as much a theory of liberation as it is about reasserting meaning into your post-work endeavors, whatever form you let them take. Labor may never resemble play but, rest assured, leisure can.”
If leisure is just the left-over underside of labor, then it appears that we have had no choice in the structuring of our own free time. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Taking back some leisure time to undeniably call your own is about harnessing the extrinsic, objective value of your past-times, transforming them into play. This is not as abstract as it sounds. It requires a revaluation of what you do with your free time and what it is you get out of it; it means that what you choose to do in your life, after-hours, is undertaken for its own sake and not out of mere convenience.
Play stands in contrast to the ritual binge-watching and post-work drinking that dominates young people’s lives. In many cases, play is about turning passive past-times into active pleasures- carefully evaluating what is both intrinsically and extrinsically meaningful about what you do with your free time. As critical as the philosophy of leisure seems, it does offer a saving grace to cope with the severe demands of your work life. It is as much a theory of liberation as it is about reasserting meaning into your post-work endeavours, whatever form you let them take. Labor may never resemble play but, rest assured, leisure can.