In praise of idleness
Posted on January 2, 2012
I, hopefully like you, spent most of my holiday break relaxed, with my laptop closed, in the company of family and friends. We recalled great stories, watched quality television (the Twilight Zone marathon), and consumed delicious food and drink.
However, as is typical when I am away from work, I could not shake the nagging feeling that I was spending too much time on leisurely pursuits. This is precisely why I was so pleased to discover during the break a gem of an essay written in 1932 by Bertrand Russell, called “In Praise of Idleness.” Here’s a taste:
I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.
It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.
We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.
In short, perhaps humans value work too much, and leisure too little. What do you think?
The entire essay is available here.
Also, you can read philosopher Massimo Pigliucci’s analysis of Russell’s essay here.