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I read this essay by A.V. Flox about leisure last week, and it lit up a lamp inside my brain:

“There is something very wrong with defining yourself by your work and achievements, it drives people to a point where the most important goal is the acquisition of things instead of the enjoyment of things. And for what? You should work — don’t get me wrong. But work so you can enjoy. Don’t make achievement a substitute for living.”

I love leisure. I love lazy mornings and lazy afternoons. I love spending the day buried in a book or three. I love finding an interesting person and talking to them for hours about everything and nothing. I love losing track of time, not in a stressful, “now I’m going to be late” kind of way, but in a “it doesn’t really matter because I’m not missing something pressing, and isn’t this delightful?” kind of way. I love meandering through cities and towns and parks, and stopping for ice cream or crepes or lemonade.

I also love noticing pleasure. The pleasure in a fine day of the ideal temperature. The pleasure of running your hand through the soft fur of a little dog or cat. The pleasure of food, the pleasure of fresh air, the pleasure of a warm hand in mine. When I think about being happy, I often think about those things that give me especial pleasure: Disneyland. Christmas. Little dogs. Ice cream. Magical conversations at 1 in the morning.

Photo by John Althouse Cohen

I agree with A.V. that American culture does not encourage the cultivation of leisure. I too have known the driven person who is scheduled within an inch of her life or who can’t bear to spend half the day doing nothing much. Sometimes, of course, one can’t afford the luxury of leisure. But often it doesn’t seem to be encouraged even if one has the time. It is not looked upon kindly.

I call your attention to the virtue associated with rising early. I do not rise early. I get up later than the majority of people, and I stay up later. I understand that I am fortunate to be able to dictate my own hours, and I know this might not always be case. But in the meantime why shouldn’t I do as I like? And yet some people react to my late wake up time as if it is a personal affront or an illustration of laziness. Why? Is it perhaps a reaction against the perceived leisure that comes with being able to follow one’s own internal rhythms of sleeping and waking?

And yet living for enjoyment is such an effective way to be happier. When I am writing to achieve, I feel stress and worry and come out of the present moment. When I write because of the pleasure it gives me, I feel as if I could continue writing for the rest of my life. When I have an unpleasant day and then I sit down to a bowl of ice cream or a game of backgammon, I am able to renew my positive energy and truly believe that tomorrow will be a different day, even while I’m discovering what there is to appreciate about today.

Do I regret that the two hours I meant to be spending playing Go with a friend on Saturday turned into four? No. Do I regret the sleep I’ve lost having conversations about how to live and how to die and what we’re afraid of and what we wish for? Never. Do I look back on my times wandering the cities of the world and wish I could have spent that time more focused on achievement? Not once. Connection, inspiration, exploration, introspection, the exchange of ideas–these all give me immense pleasure.

These times are the jewels of my life.

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And speaking of jewels, I’ll be collecting some more at Worldcon in Chicago this week. As usual, feel free to come say hi to me if you’re planning to attend; I love meeting new people. And I’ll be taking a break from the blog while I’m traveling, so I’ll see you here again on September 6th.

 

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