The art of being idle

 If I said the word ‘leisure’ to you, what do you think of?

Maybe it’s horrible pastel-coloured polyester ‘leisure suits’, ‘leisure centres’ where you can play sports, or more general ‘leisure time’ which is – in the broadest sense – the opposite of work time.

Let’s get the idea of leisure suits out of our minds and focus on leisure time.

This week I attended a lecture at the London School of Economics. It was given by Frank Trentmann who has written a book called The Empire of Things: how we became a world of consumers from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first.

It was an interesting talk and among a number of points he touched on the idea of how our leisure time has changed over the centuries.

In the modern day we fill our leisure time with activity, sometimes too many activities which mean we end up frazzled and just as stressed as if we had been at work.

He argued that there is a modern preoccupation with busyness and that being busy was now seen as a positive trait. A diary bursting with engagements and leisure activities proves we are living a full life, we are popular, and it is aspirational to fill our time with high-brow activities such as piano lessons and theatre outings.

All the busyness proves we are not idle, we are part of an elite who can afford to buy (things or experiences) to fill out time.

Trentmann then took us back to Aristotle’s time when the leisure meant to be idle. It was the privileged elite who were able to kick back and do nothing but contemplate the world around them.

When did society decide that being idle was a bad things? That taking a moment to think and consider the world was a sign of laziness?  

It could be argued that a world which wants us to buy benefits from us cramming in as much as we can into our free time. We are using our leisure time to shop for clothes, see plays, joining clubs, going on holidays.

It is not just sucking up money but it is sucking up our time.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of cramming something into every minute, whether that’s work or after-work events. I haven’t perfected the art of being idle as a guilt begins to bubble in my stomach as soon as I stop.

I believe myself to be a shark, at risk of death if I stop moving. The truth is, I never give myself a chance to stop.


6 thoughts on “The art of being idle

  1. I’m meeting someone for drinks after work who is just as you describe. She will talk and talk about how busy she is but often never just talks about life. I’m focusing on balance and hopefully that includes time to just breath more.

    Liked by 1 person

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