On Leisure.

On Leisure.

Before the pandemic, I’d sit at the bar of my favorite local Italian restaurant and order a Negroni, dinner and glass of wine. More than once, a bartender or server would ask me why my newspaper was pink. If you read the Financial Times, you’ve probably been asked the same question. The paper has been printed on a characteristic salmon colored paper since 1888. A lot has changed since the pandemic. I stopped drinking and got my blood pressure under control–both good things for me. But the Financial Times also stopped delivering the print edition to my home. Apparently, in the middle of the United States, we can download a digital copy of the newspaper each morning, still with the trademark salmon background, but there’s no more dead-tree paper delivery for us.

Oh well. I still love reading my favorite columns from great journalists like Sarah O’Connor. This weekend she wrote an excellent article about the mysterious decline of our leisure time. Over a century ago, unions pushed hard to establish “eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what we will.” They were successful. We have shorter working hours, but what happened to all the “spare time” we gained?

Sarah demonstrates how “time poverty” isn’t just a matter of perception. For example, the OECD shows that “the average time people spend on leisure has decreased since the 1980s. In the 2010s, the average time spent on leisure shrank in eight out of 13 countries for which data is available. It dropped by 14 percent in Korea, 11 percent in Spain, 6 percent in the Netherlands, 5 percent in Hungary and 1 percent in the US.”

Women have experienced more significant declines in leisure time than men. The data report men are doing more housework today than they did 40 years ago, but women are working more hours and devoting more time to childcare than they did in the 1970s. I’ve written about this phenomenon and its effects on the workforce, particularly in the dental profession where 87% of the employees are female.

The pandemic hasn’t made things better. Working from home really means you’re living at work. Yes, remote workers have reclaimed any time they spent commuting, but new technology makes it really difficult to divide our time between work and play. This has tremendous consequences on the future of work, productivity, leisure and happiness.

O’Connor says, “If I’m watching TV while checking my work email on my phone, am I at leisure or at work? What about if I watch a funny video while sitting at my desk? As the boundaries dissolve, does it make work feel better, or leisure feel worse?” This is a critical question and issue to discuss with your remote workers. Derek Thompson, one of my favorite writers at the Atlantic, says “leisure is getting leaky.” He’s right, but the other side of that coin is that work has gotten wonky. We’ve allowed it to creep in from all angles.

John Maynard Keynes predicted back in 1930 that advanced economies would transition to a 15-hour work week, but he also warned that this would be extremely difficult. “There is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread,” he said. “For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy.”

If you’re like me and you lean towards the workaholic side of the spectrum, the secret is to learn how to undo all of this hard-wired thinking. We must aim to strive and enjoy. If you’re going to devote 15, 30, 40 or even 80 hours per week to doing something, it certainly doesn’t hurt if you love it at the same time.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.