Reexamining the Value of Leisure Time

The thinker Søren Kierkegaard posited that individuals typically respond to acedia, or existential boredom, in one of two ways: by succumbing to it or by fleeing from it. Yielding to acedia leads to a state of stagnation, while fleeing manifests as an endless pursuit of distractions.

Modern entertainment, regrettably, tends to be a passive experience. Individuals often find themselves mindlessly scrolling through social media, engaging with a reality that is not their own, which serves as a fleeting escape but ultimately exacerbates their sense of ennui.

Gary suggests that the antidote to such amusement is not more of the same, but rather leisure that demands active engagement, thoughtful consideration, and exertion. He draws a contrast between passive activities like watching television or browsing social media and active pursuits such as martial arts, basketball, chess, carpentry, or writing. Confucius echoed this sentiment, advocating for a balanced development of skills.

Confucius introduced The Six Arts as a foundational element of his educational philosophy, aiming to cultivate well-rounded individuals. These arts encompass:

  • Rites/Etiquette: Emphasizing ceremony, community rituals, and appropriate conduct.
  • Music: Involving the playing of instruments and understanding music theory.
  • Archery: Combining the physical skill of bow manipulation with the mental discipline required for accuracy.
  • Charioteering: Demanding mental and physical coordination, as well as self-control.
  • Calligraphy: Integrating art, writing, poetry, and thoughtful expression through penmanship.
  • Arithmetic: Engaging in advanced thinking through mathematics and science.

These activities are varied but all require the participant to actively engage and challenge themselves. Similarly, the Japanese concept of Dō, meaning “the way,” is reflected in various pursuits, each representing a path to mastery and self-improvement, such as:

  • Kado: The way of flower arranging.
  • Shodo: The way of calligraphy.
  • Kyudo: The way of archery.
  • Kendo: The way of the sword.
  • Shinto: The way of God.

The Japanese believe that a lifelong dedication to these mind-body activities can refine an individual’s character and “polish the soul.” However, they stipulate that the chosen activity must be sufficiently challenging to stretch one’s mental, physical, and skill capacities.

Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, noted that one effective strategy for overcoming acedia or existential boredom is through social engagement. Leisure activities can facilitate this by restoring a sense of personal agency and fostering connections with others.

In essence, leisure can be likened to a specialized coating that protects against the corrosion of the spirit. To summarize, the pursuit of challenging and engaging leisure activities can rejuvenate the soul and alleviate the weight of existential boredom.

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