Even When They're Not Busy, People Hate Idleness

A blog about business and economics.
July 2 2012 2:32 PM

Even When They're Not Busy, People Hate Idleness


Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Tim Kreider says that fancy-pants professional types spend too much time being busy and what people need is more idleness:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

One natural thing to wonder is whether paid work is crowding out idleness, but if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Time Use Survey data (PDF) on leisure time it turns out that people hate "relaxing and thinking."


And indeed if you look elsewhere in Kreider's piece, it turns out that he doesn't like to be idle when he's not working either:

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

Running errands is largely part of the BLS' "household activities" category and not leisure at all. And among leisure activities, it seems that what he really enjoys is what the BLS calls "participating in sports, exercise, recreation" (long bike ride), "socializing and communicating" (see friends, check out the Met's new American Wing, ogle girls), reading, and the dreaded "other leisure activities" (watch a movie).

At any rate, if you compare the United States to most other rich countries (South Korea is a huge exception here), Americans spend considerably more time engaged in market work. But these charts are a reminder that it's not necessarily the case that if we worked less, we'd engage in more idleness. Foreigners tend to spend more time doing household work than we do, and even if we had more leisure time, we might well spend it on our favorite activities—watching TV, hanging out with friends, and screwing around with computers. Indeed as a Slate writer, I would strongly encourage everyone to spend less time idle and more time reading fun websites.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.