We must guard our spare moments, are the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. “They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
But in a world of crammed schedules, where busyness is often worn as a badge of honour, it’s not uncommon to feel confused and anxious when faced with a spare moment – what do we do when we have nothing to do?
Doing nothing has become a lost art, or as author of The Pleasures of Leisure Robert Dessaix puts it, “Nowadays everyone’s got to appear to be doing something.”
When what we do in our work or daily lives is so closely linked to who we are, doing something naturally trumps the seemingly meaninglessness of leisure.
In fact, we may have become so good at work that we have forgotten what leisure really is. Is a weekend without email considered a leisurely weekend? A Netflix binge? Drinks with friends? Perhaps not – as Katrina Onstad discovered in researching her book The Weekend Effect, after decades of fighting for our right to the weekend, we are doing it wrong.
“I talked to many people who protect their weekends and use them wisely. What I found surprised me: They weren’t just chilling. They had learned that a good weekend isn’t about turning off the brain and checking out. Instead, it’s about corralling that precious free time for meaningful pursuits.”
There is a difference between simply switching off, and creating time for nourishing leisure activities. According to sociologist Robert Stebbins, most leisure falls into two categories: casual and serious. Casual leisure pursuits are short-lived, immediately gratifying, and often passive – think binging Netflix or drinking too much wine on a Friday evening.
“In a culture where many people exist all week in an amped-up, overworked state, casual weekend leisure easily becomes the default for quick decompression,” he writes.
Serious leisure activities on the other hand, are those that provide deeper fulfilment for an individual and a challenge.
So what does serious leisure look like? We asked two leisure-seekers who balance businesses, art practices and spare time with aplomb – Kirra Jamison and Stephen Ormandy – just how and why they take their leisure seriously.
Finding your serious leisure activity
What may be considered a fulfilling leisure activity to one person can be a chore to another. It’s individual to us, and we can be creative in defining leisure for ourselves.
For artist and owner of Good Vibes yoga studio Kirra Jamison, it's about “taking the time to enjoy the small things that make you feel good.”
Photo by Lara Cooper
“Taking baths with essential oils, walking my dog, all of these simple rituals that you can incorporate into the everyday to make sure you are taking time for yourself,” says Kirra.
Serious leisure is almost an ode to everyday enjoyment, adds Kirra. “It’s taking the time to switch off the doing and focus on enjoying.”
For artist and founder of Dinosaur Designs Stephen Ormandy, such leisure activities are not trivial – they can open up doors to a richer life.
“I think meaningful hobbies are wonderful things and can often lead to a whole new life.”
Surfing is a serious leisure activity for Stephen, a way to become completely absorbed in something else aside from the day-to-day grind.
“It's so important in life to switch off and have these down time because you need to refresh and reboot. That’s why I’m so lucky I have surfing because it's a wonderful head-clearer – there is so much concentration required that your focus completely shifts and is dominated by this physicality.”
Schedule your leisure
For years, Stephen has started his day by looking out his window and checking the ocean swells in preparation for a morning surf.
With the predictive nature of weather forecasting, this ritual has become less crucial in practical terms, but the moment is still enjoyed in its simple contemplation of soon-to-be-had leisure.
Perhaps the ability to now schedule his morning surf days in advance has enhanced the pleasure. “You know a swell is coming maybe a week before it gets here, so I’m well informed and I’ve reorganised my diary on a particular day.”
When we schedule our leisure, we eliminate excuses to indulge in what refuels us.
“If you are organised and ready for that moment, you can crack on with something you have been dying to do but haven't been able to get to,” adds Stephen.
The peaks and valleys of work and leisure
Work and leisure may sit at opposing ends of the spectrum, but much like how we need a range of emotions in order to appreciate their nuance, we need work in order to truly appreciate our spare moments and what they can bring.
“There will always be peaks and the valleys,” says Stephen. “I’ve got to sit there and go through paperwork for my tax, that is inevitable.”
The key to protecting leisure when life’s ‘boring bits’ start to encroach is to prioritise, adds Stephen..
“Be efficient about the boring bits – putting them off is a disaster, I've discovered. The putting off just compounds everything and turns it into a really mammoth task, so get it done and get it done quick.”
Don’t just engage in serious leisure, take leisure seriously
The most important thing about leisure is to enjoy what you are doing, says Stephen.
“If you are dragging yourself through something, sure it can sometimes be a means to an end, but if that is your life then I think you have to do something about it,” he says.
In that sense, it’s about taking life seriously, not just leisure. “You have got to enjoy what you do and look for opportunity to really enhance your sense of wellbeing,” adds Stephen.
Learning to embrace the spare moments and switch off is how we can be refreshed and energised and ready for the other parts of life.
In taking life and leisure seriously, we no longer look to cram as much as we can into every moment, but make the moment itself last.
As Robert Dessaix puts it, "Once upon a time, I believed in truth, but now I believe in beauty. I don't want to live like every minute is my last, but enjoy every minute as deeply as I can."