Why Leisure is the Highest Good: or Why You are Missing out on Life

It is a sorrowful thing to hear people complaining of boredom in vacations! This can only happen when people have the wrong idea about human life and potential. If one was thrown into life, one is not thrown with the knowledge necessary to know what the goodness or what is the good life (as is commonly believed), or even with the basic tools of how to think about them. One of the worst consequences  of this is the way many think of leisure as the antithesis of work which is often a disastrous claim made by the fallible human beings. But this is most definitely not the case.

Leisure, however, did not always have this catastrophic meaning. The word leisure comes from the Latin ‘lecre’ and the Greek ‘skole’; the former meaning voluntary rather than  compulsory, and ‘skole’ means school: giving a meaning of self-directed discovery and development of one’s own special worth (talents and capacities). Leisure thus defined is the highest good, because what could be better than cultivating oneself?“Though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.”  – Emerson

Boredom is a uniquely human state but what does it mean? According to the 19th century philosopher Schopenhauer it means that a person is not satisfied with mere existence that a person wants more than existence. In other words it means that something inside that person who is bored telling them ‘I am not me, I can be better, I have not yet showed them my true potential that I can be.’ Boredom in a nutshell is your minds way of saying “I am being squandered”. But unfortunately sloth, aided with bad habits, that diffuses energy, stands between what one is and what can be. “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive  but in finding something to live for” Dostoevsky

Using leisure is something to be learned but what hinders most people from tapping into their unused reserves is the mistaken notion that we know how to spend leisure, and this prevents them from learning. For example, negative idleness, i.e., time wasted (life killed), is viewed by them as a trivial matter as something that they have to endure until they find something “useful to do”. In fact the whole reason for education in ancient times was to teach us how to use leisure and become effective citizens.


Something “useful” might just be the most devastating of the things they think (or rather dogmatically believe) they know. By useful they usually mean something “in the real world” and by that they mean external; this entails the belief that they do not possess any intrinsic value in themselves. That the only value they can derive is extrinsic thus devaluating themselves into nothing, this is what makes totalitarianism and other disastrous individual-sacrificing  ideologies, possible.

So, what harm is associated with living an irrational (“normal”) life, nothing short of condemnation to ennui and boredom.(this is paragraph is mostly paraphrasing Mortimer J. Adler ) The irrational person only lives few moments of his life and some not at all, only these few moments of minor pathetic triumphs and moments of feeling he accomplished something. Scarifying the whole of life, for just a part of life (which is most often determined by the environment aka not delebratly chosen )  is a sorry condition to be in.

Instead a psychologically  healthy person should live the whole of life giving value to every moment of existence and expressing or developing his uniqueness and ‘feel the pleasure of growing and being grown’ – Maslow

How leisure ought  be spent? In reflecting about issues that matter and later on acting in them. Like why am living or how I will spend the rest of days? “The first step,my son,which one makes in the world , is the one on which depends the rest of our days” – Voltaire. The first step is what to do beyond high school since it is the first major decision in which one has a say.

One might be naturally tempted to think by oneself but then one is vunerable to cognitive biases, fallacies in thinking, and not seeing the whole picture. So one should think for oneself but by the aid of others. Whose best thoughts are usually found in books and fortunately this is the most convenient way of absorbing their wisdom.  Think for oneself but not by oneself.


One major cause why  people misuse pleasure is that they think they cannot do otherwise, my next two articles on existentialism and stoicism will aim at emphasising that we are free and what is and is not in our control.

2 Comments on this Post

  1. Yousef Damra

    Similarly, someone says, ‘I don’t like leisure, it’s boring; I don’t like crowds, they’re a nuisance.’ But if events ordain that you spend time either alone or with just a few other people, look upon it as tranquillity and play along with it for the duration. Talk to yourself, train your thoughts and shape your preconceptions. If, on the contrary, you happen upon a crowd, call it a sporting event, a festival or celebration, [27] and try to keep holiday with the people. What could better please a person who loves his fellow man than the sight of them in numbers? We like to see herds of cows or horses, we delight in the sight of a fleet of boats; why hate the sight of a gathering of human beings?

    Epictetus Discourses(IV,4:26-27)

  2. Very good ! Keep it up !


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