Words Nabil Michael Barbir

Work, sleep, repeat. This is what most human lives look like in today’s capitalist world. After school and the university, young adults are thrown into a world over which they have no control. Right away, they worry about university loans, the rent, the electric bills, the telephone and Internet bills, not to mention food and basic survival needs. This is all before having families to feed, educate, and shelter. Therefore, straight out of the university, young women and men are driven to a life of work. Year after year, they adapt and find their specific routines. Though the work day ends at 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. for most people, the bills keep coming. In order to escape from this unending nightmare, they find solace in bars and nightclubs, in outings with friends, in travelling on weekends if possible, etc. Unfortunately, fun, recreation, and leisure always come second to work.

One needs to find a certain balance in today’s world. It is very easy to fall prey to the ideals of productivity and efficiency that govern our societies. We tend to focus on what we have to do to the detriment of the things that we want to do. At the risk of sounding somewhat like a cliché, I think it goes without saying that no man or woman on his deathbed has ever thought, “I should have worked more”. Rather, one would expect something like, “I wish I had taken some more time off to enjoy and appreciate the world and the people around me.”

Fill your life with experiences,

not things, have stories to tell,

not stuff to show.

This is not to say that you must not work – on the contrary, human beings need work to keep them going, to keep us interested and alive. It is to say that once you have worked to provide for the survival of yourself and your family, spend some time coming to know yourself as a specific human being. Spend some time having leisure, doing the things that you do not have to do to survive.  Engage in play, in the fine arts, in the humanities, in politics, or be religious, if you feel so inclined. Classical and Mediaeval culture was of the view that to be human meant to elevate oneself above the work-a-day world and to enter into the realm of leisure.

The meaning of leisure

Leisure is about living alongside other human beings in a way that is unnecessary and ought not to be viewed as absolutely required. That is what the founders of our civilization, namely, the ancient Athenians, believed. Only human beings could temporarily escape the world of work and of necessity, and it was their calling to do so once they had provided for their survival. In Aristotle’s Ethics, he distinguishes between work, play, relaxation, and leisure. Play and relaxation are forms of relief from hard work. Leisure is more than just relief; it is the medium in which happiness and a life of good quality can be pursued. If leisure consisted simply in play and relaxation, then a life of good quality—the end goal for which man strives—would be nothing more than play and relaxation.

Let that thought sink in, notice here how this changes how you look upon the world in which you live, how it affects your values, and leads you to have second and third thoughts about whether it is absolutely necessary that you enter the “rat-race” every morning. You should take the time required to cultivate yourself, and to spend time on transforming yourself through education and leisure.

In the past, as well as today, leisure has been associated with the field of psychology based on an individual’s overall psychological well-being. One researcher, Albert Bandura, states that “leisure experiences are essential to growth and development throughout the lifespan.” If we were to look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we would find that leisure is key to achieving well-being and a state of self-actualization.

Well-being is an individual’s overall feelings based on his or her own life satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment, contentment, achievement, stress, and coping mechanisms. It is important to understand that mental well-being means different things to different people, but regardless of the definition, participating in leisurely activities affects an individual’s overall well-being.

Leisure comes in many shapes and sizes. It can take the form of yoga or meditation. It is about allowing yourself to have time for introspection and self-development. Get to know yourself as a person–your wants, needs, fears, mental and physical obstacles, problems etc.

Take a few minutes of every day to listen to music. Put your earphones on and get into a relaxed state, allowing each and every note to move you and lift you above and away from the mundane and the habitual. Aristotle suggests that music helps to promote the proper use of leisure. While music is not directly useful, it helps man make use of his leisure. Similarly, the practical tools of reading, writing, and drawing can have applications beyond their usefulness, and they can also widen man’s knowledge and teach him to appreciate form and beauty.

In my own personal opinion, travel is the best form of leisure, even if it is just for a weekend. Escaping the monotony of everyday life and discovering a new place, a new culture and way of life is, to me, invaluable. Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

However, travel doesn’t necessarily mean taking a plane and leaving your country or geographical area. It can be a simple camping trip where you put away your smartphones and laptops. It is about disconnecting from our everyday life. It is about escaping the constant bombardment of advertisements, sounds, noises, and overwhelming stimuli that one experiences living in an urban setting. Cesare Pavese, an Italian poet, once wrote: “If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, selfishness, and fears.” To travel is to take a journey into yourself. Leave everything behind and just go.