What will you do with your 1,000 hours of leisure time this year?
I recently read an article published in Forge called What Will You Do With You 1,000 Hours? In sum, the article states the average working American has anywhere between 1,000–2,000 hours of ‘leisure’ time each year. I wise use of that time allows us to achieve many great goals — such as business level proficiency in a new language, running a marathon, or writing a novel.
The key takeaway from the article is that big goals require you to only focus on one at a time, so you must budget your 1,000 hours of leisure time. Don’t waste them on TV watching or other useless things.
While learning a new language or running a marathon are both admirable goals, and I don’t see the article as inherently negative, there is something to be said for allowing yourself to spend your ‘leisure’ time actually doing something that is…well, leisurely.
What does leisure time look like?
My main source of income is from a 32-hour a week job. Due to Covid situations, I am fortunate enough to live with my partner’s family, and his mother insists on doing the cooking and cleaning. So you could say, I have far more leisure time than your average working American.
The global pandemic has afforded me the ability to have many personal goals to tackle during the hours I have outside my main job. I earned my 200-hour yoga teaching certification, took a 20 hour SQL course, and semi-started my own side business. I also help my partner with his side business, maintain my finances, check in with my mother once a week, etc.
But none of the time used for those things is anything I would call “leisure” time. Studying, writing essays, learning to code, and building a website are all very interesting and enjoyable, but they are not leisurely activities by any stretch of the word.
Merriam-Webster defines leisure as “freedom provided by the cessation of activities especially : time free from work or duties.”
This means that if you get enjoyment out of running, but you’ve tacked on the goal of “running a marathon 6 months from now” — you are no longer running for leisurely purposes. If you want to meet your new goal of running a marathon, you must run. It’s no longer relaxing because you’ve put pressure on yourself to meet a certain end point. This results in the potential for stress and anxiety, in addition to negative internal talk if you fall behind schedule. Thus the goal causes your run to no longer be leisure time.
But, if you run for the mere sake of enjoying it…
Who the fuck runs because they enjoy running?
Right? Those are my thoughts, too…but I’m sure there’s someone!
If you run because you enjoy running and it clears your head, then your running is leisure time.
Doing nothing is good for you
American (and thus internet) culture has become obsessed with the notion that time spent not thinking and not producing something valuable is time wasted.
But the opposite is true. Genuine, relaxing leisure time is vital for physical and mental health.
When was the last time you sat in silence for 5 minutes and did nothing?
Many of us do so in the form of savasana at the end of a yoga practice. But that means we first need to spend fifty-five minutes exhausting our physical bodies and working to bring ourselves into the moment. Just to be able to enjoy this single moment of peace.
Think about those moments when your dog or cat (rabbit, guinea pig, or even toddler) just sits in the middle of the floor, not sleeping or doing anything? Just sitting. Staring.
It’s fucking weird! Content with staring off into the corner. It freaks me out when they do that! Especially toddlers.
So, the thing is, “weird” is subjective. And if we take the entire animal kingdom into account, the weird ones are actually the adult modern Homo sapiens. It’s the rest of critters who are normal. We are animals, not machines. We are not designed to be constantly going, physically or mentally.
We are born with the ability to be content doing nothing. It’s how we recharge and get energy for the activities that are important. We lose that ability as we age, because we are conditioned by our societies to need to be constantly on the go.
There are countless studies on the internet discussing the importance of taking a damn break, so I’m not going to sit here spouting them off. If you’re reading this far, you’re probably no stranger to the concept.
Our culture has created an inability to mentally turn off. As a result, we don’t sleep despite being chronically exhausted, and we need constant mental stimulation to help quiet the stressful thoughts mulling about in our heads.
I’m not suggesting that someone should spend two hours a day watching television. But is possible that learning a language, writing a book, or running a marathon leave us devoid of important unwinding time?
Also, is watching TV or playing a video game such a bad thing, if it’s done in moderation? Especially if you do this with a loved one? Then it’s bonding time, no?
Some people might want to use this free time to read, knit, paint, or do something else creative and truly relaxing, allowing their mind to enter a peaceful flow state that energizes them. Maybe they garden or bake, play a video game, or strum aimlessly on the guitar.
The point is, we don’t need to have long term goals attached to every hour that we are given in our time budget.
This is the entire purpose of the trend toward things like yoga and meditation: they are methods to bring someone into the moment and with luck, learn to either turn of the brain or be so fully focused on what is happening in the here and now that nothing else is relevant.
So, will I use some of my 2021 non-work time for other productive things? Absolutely.
But it’s also perfectly okay, dare I say beneficial, if your goal for your leisure time is simply to relax and let the mind rest from the day.