Work, Leisure and The Good Life

There are many interpretations on what can be done in order to lead a good life.We may be miserable because we have been raised by society to believe work to be a moral virtue, instead of leisure. Once upon a time, Aristotelian time, it was a very different picture.

It is becoming popular opinion that work is reducing people’s capacity for joy and contentment and that we need to use are leisure more rewardingly in order to lead a good life. Work, it seems, in modern Australian society has developed into a moral virtue and that prioritising leisure has various negative inferences. There has been a rise in the call for a work-life balance, as despite technological advances, people are working longer hours with no real gained satisfaction. It could be said that paid work itself is not necessarily a bad thing, as it produces some important goods for people; income, self-esteem and social ties; and that job insecurity and unemployment has a considerable negative impact on one’s wellbeing.

Society attaches a greater status to higher income, but not to greater leisure. We compare ourselves to others, and become exhausted in this task, as everyone strives to work harder, and we adapt when we finally are rewarded (financially) for working harder, and everything in this the effort is negated. Princeton University study shows people spend the vast proportion of their lives doing things that to them are comparatively unenjoyable, working being high on the list. A small catalog of the activities that are enjoyable include; convivial social contact, voluntary community or charity work, meditation or worship, decent amounts of sleep and exercise.

People often argue that too much leisure in itself can also have negative impacts on an individual, such as the fact that many choose to spend their leisure time watching television, and that we do not utilise our leisure as rewardingly as we could. Added to that, the education system is focused on preparing people for work, so we may need to educate ourselves in regards to leisure.
A comparison of our modern view of leisure to the Aristotelian view is startlingly different. For us, work is paid employment and leisure is any remaining time left over. For Aristotle, leisure was active contemplation, the searching for wisdom and knowledge, and being free from the demands to attend to the necessities of life. Leisure is distinguished from “amusements”, such as relaxing on a beach (a common picture of leisure in the modern world), as these are (occasionally allowable) diversions. The Aristotelian view of leisure may not for be everyone, but surely we can agree with Aristotle on the need for less work, the need for people to be better educated, and that amusements would be dull if done constantly.

Some believe that we must find a “calling”, whatever this may be for an individual for them to be satisfied and flourish. This however, reiterates the negative impacts of overwork as it makes people less happy, lowers productivity, and removes the time for enjoyable activities as one focus on a single goal at the expense of all other experience and opportunities. It feeds into the work above all until death mentality, as a “calling” takes sacrifice for one end.

It is true that work has been crowned as a moral virtue, and that pursuing seemingly unjustified leisure (or “unearned” leisure), may cause others to be cynical, the inauguration of work as a moral virtue is found in evolution of a slave state; people work in order to gain a financial status, and the state works to grow its status through financial gains. The focus is very narrow, and monetarily driven, as few have any other alternative. The positive aspects listed from paid work are just used to justify the work in the first place, and alienate those without it.

Income status may not have a higher value in society for all. It may seemingly make life easier, but it is difficult to idolize such excesses and hedonism that they may create, but the opportunities available may be envious, though they should be available to all. Many do not know what to do with a greater amount of income, and are just as lost as they were previously. In regards to comparison and adaption, there is ignorance of the reality that in modern society one is more likely to move down the hierarchy of income and status, rather than up, though the striving is taxing and inherently pointless.

 All suggestions on what is enjoyable, though numerically found, are based on restrictions. The suggestion on educating ourselves in regard to leisure raises the same issues associated with work. It imposes restrictions and can often stifle independence. A person is doing what is demanded of them, the same as with work, and can feel the same overworked, anxious and disillusioning feelings associated with work. Thereby we loose the opportunities for leisure and happiness that some acknowledge is the result of work. 

There is no prodigious need to necessarily find a calling to pursue in leisure both in order to be satisfied, and to flourish. A calling may sound just as restrictive as work in the modern sense. One’s only chance to flourish is to explore, internally and externally, and learn through mistake and victory. The best way this can be achieved is with a change in the views of society and the way the world is organised.

It is a common thread in modern society that “happiness” is the product of a utilitarian bureaucracy. In other words, the only good is a quantifiable good. Despite the efforts, in the simplest form, you cannot make someone happy in this way. If however we were using this method wouldn’t leisure be preferred to work. Surely more quantifiable good could be found spurting from leisure due to the imagination, contemplation and motivation it creates and allows to grow.

The positions on what is work, and what is leisure is variable, changing from Aristotle’s era to modern times. It is paramount to consider the sense of these words. Work implies it is done in the employ of another, producing for another in exchange for money. It implies low stimulation, restrictions, a lack of independence and freedom, and ultimately pointless in the grand scale of the workers life. Working for another is bad, but working for yourself is a different game, as it may grow from leisure. Leisure is free exploration, imagination and contemplation. It is producing something of value for yourself, or for others, at your own volition. Idleness is different to leisure (and basically identical to most work) as it is repetitive, mindless, of little to no value; essentially the majority of modern work, work for work’s sake. A little work is needed to continue society, but perhaps it could be seen through a different lens, a lens of discovery and exploration, as opposed to being in the front trenches.

Work is meaningless without leisure beforehand, and leisure may result from work. Technology should be used sustainably as a tool to eliminate work, a communal effort by all. Small examples such as the dishwasher demonstrate this, so do 3D fabricators, but it needs to be taken to a greater scale and spread equally across the population so that there can be leisure and individuals can flourish, as opposed to working for another to create leisure for them, continuing a cycle. There should be a rise in self-sufficiency.

 Work has become a religion. Leisure should take priority over work, as only from leisure do great ideas and innovations spring forth, as well as the all-important contentment in life. Perhaps a good life is a lucky and fortunate life, a life that flows along with the rest of the world and people and society as a whole are less fragile to change; less rigid systems prone to collapse (banking, housing, etc.) and more fluid, embracing the chaos and unpredictability that is the real world.

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