At leisure

By Mathias Maurer, August 2017

Nowadays we immediately think of idleness, inaction, loafing about and shirking.

Yet among the ancient Greeks leisure still meant the opposite,  namely school (scholé). And the philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote: “Study and research require leisure. Leisure requires resources which mostly cannot be acquired at the same time as our utilitarian work.” We can see: the all-encompassing concept of utility becomes the arch enemy of leisure.

Gisela Dischner, literary scholar and the author of Wörterbuch des Müßiggängers  (Dictionary for Idlers) rehabilitates this abused term: leisure is light-hearted, playful serenity; it occurs in the interplay of the force fields of concentration and relaxation. And the philosopher of the art of living,  Wilhelm Schmid, advises us: only at times of leisure, which are not boring but where I like to linger as they become emptier and quieter, can my inner voice be heard again. Leisure creates the scope for productivity, new ideas and creative solutions, it is the source of all culture and art. Even God in Heaven took a break from Creation and saw that it was good.

“If laziness is twinned with lethargy, then leisure with vivacity. It comes to expression in joy in  movement and learning, the discovery of new things.” That is the finding of the art historian Viola Vahrson and the philosopher Hannes Böhringer in their research project “The architecture of everyday things: habit, laziness, leisure”. Thus leisure is not the opposite of work, free time, but it is an attitude to life.

But it needs to be learnt because it is far removed from being useless, without being superficially useful: I learn to be present in the moment, perceptive, pensive, reflecting. There is good reason why there is an ongoing interdisciplinary research project at the University of Freiburg which is studying, among other things, “leisure in a school context” ( It aims to counter with mindfulness training the negative effects of increasing functionality, acceleration and the pressure to perform on health and creativity so that – the authors say – “school becomes more of a place of scholé”.

There is a lot to be said for redesignating 1 May – Labour Day – as Leisure Day. 


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