Leisure - its origins
Is it the antidote to our busyness and is it the nirvana that older adults are looking for when they retire?
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, scholars, modern educators and everyday people have struggled to adequately define “leisure”. For Aristotle and his fellow Greeks it was central to life, as they knew it.
The Greeks had the view that leisure was a state of mind and that it was something to become immersed in. Hence the word "theoria" which means contemplation. Aristotle also uses the word "eudaimonia" meaning happiness. Aristotle thought that leisure revolved around these two major themes hence the Greeks didn't have a word for work.
They used the opposite of schole (education of one's self, that is excluding any education that had a purpose) – ascholia, which means absence from leisure.
Work only came after leisure. This is the classical view of leisure where it was considered to be:
Aristotle’s various definitions did not include time as part of leisure: Leisure is a condition or state of being free from the necessity to labour. Leisure is a state of being in which activity is performed for its own sake or its own end. Aristotle saw only two activities as being worthy of the name leisure – music and contemplation.
The contemporary view of leisure however is based on the separation from work. This attitude originated during the Roman Empire where leisure was considered as a means to an end whereby workers could re-create for the working day. In other words leisure was only encouraged as means to rejuvenate the workers as a compensation for toil.
The Roman writer Cicero said:
A man is occupied – in the affairs of army, commerce, or state, whatever – and then he rests and re-creates himself
It is here where the separation of leisure from work begins, the rubbery concept of “leisure time” is born, and where many of the definitions took their origins.
When the notion of work took on greater significance during the Middle Ages and through the industrial revolution, Aristotle’s view on leisure took some punishment with the Church viewing leisure as hedonistic and not worthy.
Work had become the dominant feature in society.
It was a kind of work they had not bargained for – tied to other men as in galleys, tied to machines by the clock and paced by an unseen boss. This was the new order of things. (deGrazia 1962)
What does it mean today?
William Russell believes it is the most challenging responsibility a person can be offered. (Zelinski 1997)
A way of life marked by a sense of freedom and independent choice, an individual’s opportunity for achieving self-actualisation, to participate in an activity of one’s choice and at one’s own pace, and leisure involves any amount of free time (Godbey, 2003; Henderson & Ainsworth, 2001; Kraus, 1997).
Well if leisure is so important how come when we meet strangers for the first time and we are asked, “What do you do?” How many of us say – well I am an avid stamp collector or a bush walker?
For many, the notion of leisure is the opposite from work.
Today, leisure means many things to many people. One person’s leisure is another’s paid work. For some it is un-obligated time, for others it is simply the pleasurable ordinariness of going down the road to the shop.
For many people, the pursuit of leisure, in particular serious leisure, has the following benefits:
I live my life within a leisure ethic which means that whatever I do, paid work, domestic work, relationship work and my recreation activities, I do without kopos, (laborious toil).
If you would like to talk to me about how a leisure ethic can help you please contact me.