21 Apr 2022 The Four Pillars of Quality Leisure
“People Who Hate Retirement—and What the Rest of Us Can Learn From Them.” That was the title of an article from Monday’s print edition of the Wall Street Journal—a title so click-baity that I actually tried to click the physical paper as I held it in my hands. There is a whole genre of financial literature along these lines, which either tends toward pearl-clutching or schadenfreude, but this piece was self-aware enough to warn against the latter while mostly avoiding the former. Some people do, after all, hate retirement. Surely there is something we can learn from them to avoid their plight?
At the same time, there is a significant sector of the economy built around helping working people with money trade that money for leisure time. Your yard can be maintained, your groceries can be shopped and prepared, your laundry can be done, your dog can be walked, even your own kid’s baseball game can be watched–all without you being present. This outsourcing can be great in doses, but as a default way of life it doesn’t seem to be delivering the goods…
All of which leads me to say this: inconvenience is severely underrated.
Now, I don’t mean that in a masochistic, hustle-culture sort of way, where pain for its own sake appears to be the main thing. What I mean is that inconvenience is underrated as a symptom of worthwhile activities and commitments. Of course, “worthwhile” is a dramatically debatable word, but it seems to me that what many of those unhappy retirees have in common with many unhappy workers is not a lack of leisure time, but the focus of that time on convenience and ease.
To put it bluntly, leisurely convenience is boring. Ask the people who hate retirement! It will melt your mind and probably degrade your health. Yet many people heading into retirement look forward to just that, and many of us squarely within our working years try to create the same conditions in smaller chunks every night and weekend.
So instead–and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear this—I have some other ideas. For those in retirement with lots of free time, and those not in retirement who are constantly bombarded with opportunities to purchase free time, shoot to fit your leisure into one or more of the following categories. Maybe we could call these The Four Pillars of Quality Leisure, or The Quadrilateral of Wonderful Inconvenience. You may naturally gravitate to one or two of them, but don’t neglect any of them.
- Relationships. There was a couple in the article on Monday who retired from New York to Florida, but then realized they really missed their kids, grandkids, and lifelong friends. Relationships are important! Especially coming out of the pandemic, when we have all struggled to differing degrees maintaining them effectively. So make the effort to enjoy leisure time with friends and family, and to serve those in your community who are most in need. It’s inconvenient, but invaluable.
- Skills. Use your leisure time to learn new skills and to maintain or even improve existing ones. Pick up an instrument, read good non-fiction books, take a pottery class. Use an old skill in a new capacity through volunteering or part-time work. Cultivate a child-like curiosity. Learning something is very inconvenient! You are admitting you don’t know something, and you would like to know something. But of course it is also incredibly rewarding
- Physical well-being. Go outside! Get your hands dirty in a garden. Shop for different sorts of groceries in different sorts of places and make different sorts of food. Take long walks. Sit on your porch and listen and watch for birds. Moving your body is inconvenient, and trying new foods is inconvenient. Getting dirty is super inconvenient. But your leisure time will very quickly run out if you are spending it by becoming one with a couch and a tv-dinner.
- Entertainment. We don’t need help entertaining ourselves, but we do need help in choosing active entertainment over passive entertainment. Go to a baseball game with friends and you are ticking off three of the four pillars, all four if you learn to keep the box score. Read a good fiction book. Watch the movie, but invite someone over, or make a new meal beforehand, or write some thoughts down afterward about the movie. Are any of these things as convenient as simply sitting down and turning the TV on? Of course not! Is it a crime to revel in mindless entertainment from time to time? No! But defaulting to mindless is not the way to make the most of leisure time.
So, whether you’re in the midst of a working career or retired from one, the wise use of leisure time is a worthwhile pursuit. It may end up saving your mind, your body, and your wallet from the effects of empty boredom, and we’ll all be better off for it.
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