A Use for Unwanted Leisure

You can't go far in most modem cities without seeing some signs of time hanging heavily on people's hands: old men sitting on park benches, stretching out the hours until it's time to go home, or queues of people waiting simply to be entertained or diverted in bingo halls or amusement arcades. A hundred years ago social reformers concentrated on trying to lower the number of hours people had to work, but now it's become obvious—with the possibility of a thirty-hour week and earlier retirement ages—that too much leisure can present as much of a problem as too little.

There are plenty of ways nowadays of passing the time. Leisure industries are proliferating, and television is still taking an increasing amount out of people's day. But there's a serious need for greater mental stimulus, which sometimes seems to be hardly recognized.

I once took a job that quickly turned out to be a dead end, with virtually no responsibility attached to it. The only advantage was that one worked for three twelve-hour days, then had three days off. Soon, though, this turned out to be unsatisfactory as well. The feeling of achieving nothing of value at work soon carried over into my three days at home, and I found myself slipping into a state of depressed idleness. The less I did, the less I wanted to do, and the more dissatisfied I became. For a young man this was pretty serious.

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The Taste of Joy
July 3, 1971

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