Why Play

With all this free time, why aren't we having more fun?

THANKS LARGELY TO unions ("The people who brought you weekends"), most of us no longer have a 10- or 12-hour work day or a six-day work week. Since 1850, statisticians tell us, the average work week has been reduced by 31 hours. Vacations, time off for maternity (and paternity), and now even "family leave" are standard parts of the benefits package. With so much time to call our own, why does it seem that we're busier than ever?

First off, the average work week for full-time workers hasn't shrunk quite as much as the macro numbers indicate. If you take away part-time and temp workers (the fastest-growing segments of the American economy), the average full-time work week is closer to 50 hours than it is to 40. Add in the fact that many people are forced to carry more than one job, and add in longer and longer commutes, and suddenly much of that "extra" free time seems to evaporate right away.

Perhaps more important are the increased demands on that "free" time. Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for all the rest: shopping, chores, transportation, writing, helping children with homework, reading the newspaper, visiting the doctor, going to church—the list, it seems, grows ever longer. And we're left with less and less time to call our own.

GENERALLY SPEAKING, when people talk about leisure, they mean the time not spent at work. In common parlance, it's time when I can do whatever I want: "free time." Despite our busyness, the word leisure conjures up images of Lazy Boy Recliner Rockers, hammocks, and lounging on the beach. Somehow, I don't think that's quite what Aristotle had in mind when he wrote that "leisure is essential to civilization" (although on a Friday afternoon after a hard week that hammock may seem pretty essential).

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1997
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