leisure353

Not leisure.

A while ago I heard a bushy-tailed PR-type say "busy is the new happy" and, after unclenching my fists and breathing through the desire to headbutt him, I realised he might actually be on to something.

Though I got the impression this dude was gleefully equating "busy" with "happy", it struck me I know a bunch of people who seem to have replaced happiness with being busy.

I reckon there's also a large proportion of Australia who view insane hours worked as a badge of honour and, to be constantly occupied, a virtue.

What's more, when many of these same people do take time out, their "leisure" is often just more distraction, whether that be via TV, sport, boozing or getting their hair done.

They are thus spared what's been described as "any true confrontation with themselves, their lives, and their society" because they've avoided the time and effort of reflection.

So what?

The last thing we need is more navel gazing?

A fair response, I guess, if you view contemplation as simply reading Deepak Chopra's latest, then staring into space with your mouth open.

Contemplation, though, extends far beyond Facebook-forwarding photos of porpoises subtitled with the Desiderata. It's examining your beliefs, what it means to be a good person and how to live a meaningful existence.

It's been a cornerstone of civilisation for thousands of years, with the likes of Aristotle even arguing that "workers" shouldn't be allowed citizenship in a democracy because they simply don't have the time to ponder life's important questions.

American philosopher Dr David Gordon, says that "Aristotle holds that, in order to be rational, we need leisure time. If I didn't, if I had to work in the mines 18 hours a day, I wouldn't be able ... to consider what is the best life to lead."

"Leisure time" in this context, though, is not fishing with three mates and a slab, nor is it simply chanting atop a mountain; it's the development of one's character and reason.

In his book Of Time, Work, and Leisure, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sebastian de Grazia writes that "a man of leisure, according to Plato and Aristotle, was a man who believed that cultivating the mind ... was the brightest of all activities".

This "cultivation" is not done for self-aggrandisement but driven by the notion we owe our community the best version of ourselves. In this regard, I'd argue most Australians do not even partake in "leisure" but recreation.

It also makes me wonder what type of society we've become when Aussies work some of the longest hours in the developed world, just so they can collapse in front of plasma TVs.

I know I look at people on public transport sometimes and marvel that our votes are worth exactly the same because some of them don't seem capable of simultaneously eating a pie and breathing, let alone informed consent.

All in all, this is good news if you're a rich industrialist, a banker, politician or any other member of our ruling elite because even when given the time to think, to examine our country's more difficult issues, the majority opt for watching The Voice.

Aristotle also noted that the perpetually warlike Spartans - who conquered the Greeks - collapsed as an empire as soon as they acquired peace because they didn't understand how leisure should be used to strengthen a society.

It's an observation you might also make about Australia as we use our peace and prosperity to entomb ourselves in work, then squander what free time we do have with amusement, diversion or idleness.

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