Learning to Value Your Leisure

A good Sunday in October is as good a time as any to consider your aptitude for relaxation. As a concept, for many professionals, relaxation is on the rocks. Surely this means no more total hours minus working hours. True leisure—enjoying a rewarding activity free from work and civic concerns and from preoccupation with either—is difficult for many to achieve.

When the shift between a pressure-filled activity and true leisure time is sudden, the quality of your relaxation is likely to suffer. Is your relaxation squeezed in between frenetic activities? The stress of the work week tends to make individuals place great emphasis on their weekends and other days off. They hope to relax, but the pressure is immense, and often they cannot rest, even when they have the hours to do so.

Individuals under pressure feel guilty for doing too much and too little. People often ask, “Could I have done more?” “Should I have done differently?” Even when blessed with leisure, they may not be free to enjoy it.

Parents in general are often concerned about how much time they spend with their children. Spouses feel guilty about periods spent away from each other. Pressured and weakened by the onslaught of responsibilities, more couples find it exhausting to have to “be” with each other – to talk, empathize and respond.

The consequences

In this 24/7 world, a cultural inability to relax dogs us and denies many benefits relaxation traditionally provides. This in turn affects the quality of our work. Even as more labor-saving and improved communication technologies are introduced, and our output and efficiency rise, our expectations directly increase. We become less satisfied with ourselves because we don’t do more.

The feeling of no breathing space can quickly permeate all aspects of your life, diminishing your happiness and eliminating any joy in life. The cycle can turn vicious. Lacking a balance between work and play, responsibility and procrastination, “getting things done” becomes the end. You start functioning like a doer instead of a human. You begin to associate the successful completion of the items on your growing “to do” list with feelings of dignity.

As the list grows longer, the lingering feeling of more to do infiltrates your sense of harmony and self-acceptance.

How to handle

Acknowledge that everything on your “to-do” list, even at work, is done by your choice. You are not your tasks, they do not define you and they do not limit you.

On a deeply felt personal level, recognize that from now on you will be subjected to an ever-increasing number of items competing for your attention. You can’t handle everything, nor does it make the effort desirable.

Recognize, with the clarity of death, that life is finite; you can no longer wistfully take in the daily flood and expect to achieve balance. You cannot submissively yield to the noise and be content to live your life in what remains after each day’s onslaught.

Make wise choices about what is best ignored and what deserves your attention.

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