Mike Bellah

Free time has fallen nearly 40 percent since 1973 . . . Doctors are no longer the only ones always on call.





"There will be more leisure only when people become convinced that they must have it."---Juliet Schor





"We have not given play and rest a proper dignity."---Tim Hansel

Recapturing Leisure

"We're fried by work," says Newsweek, "frazzled by the lack of time. Technology hasn't made our lives better, just busier." Newsweek's article cites a number of recent cases--most of them involving high-profile people such as college presidents and pro basketball coaches--in which chronic fatigue has resulted in physical and emotional breakdown.

The phenomenon is not just affecting public figures. According to Newsweek, one of four Americans now describes themselves as exhausted. "We need to chill out before we hit the breaking point," advise the editors.

Harvard economist Juliet Schor sounds the same alarm in her book, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. Citing a recent Harris poll, she says that free time has fallen nearly 40 percent since 1973. Downsizing companies, where one employee may now do the job of two, and moonlighting--adding a second job to make ends meet--has more than offset the shorter work week of modern times. And for many, high-tech assets have become leisure liabilities. For instance, fax machines, cellular phones, pagers, and personal computers have made it easier to bring work home. In today's world, doctors are no longer the only ones always on call.

"According to my estimates," says Schor, "the average employed person is now on the job an additional 163 hours, or the equivalent of an extra month a year." Schor points out that the decline of leisure has been especially hard on working mothers. "In addition to the 40 plus hours of work a week a full-time woman employee puts in on the job, different studies estimate that she does anywhere from 25 to 45 hours in the home."

What can midlifers and others do about this loss of leisure? From Schor and others, I have gleaned some suggestions, but be forewarned; the advice is much easier to give than it is to follow:

Cut back on work.

Schor's advice is simple and straightforward: cut back on work. "We are keenly aware of the price of time--the extra income earned with a second job, the wage and a half for an hour of overtime. In the process, we may have forgotten the real worth of time." Schor advocates reexamining our values. Is the extra money worth the effort? "There will be more leisure only when people become convinced that they must have it."

Rest and play.

Just having more leisure time does not automatically cure the problem. More leisure should result in both more rest and more play. According to psychologist Archibald Hart, sleep deprivation is now "the most neglected and frequently overlooked cause of anxiety."

And if we are not careful, the same frenzy that drives our work can drive our leisure. Parents who enroll their children in every available extracurricular activity or people who turn their favorite sport into weekend marathons are not enjoying real leisure.

"We have not given play and rest a proper dignity," writes Tim Hansel in When I Relax I Feel Guilty. "We still have the conviction that the idle mind is the devil's workshop. We still have a subconscious guilt that if we enjoy life too much, something must be wrong."

Perhaps at midlife we need to recapture the thoughts of childhood. Mom was right about the importance of naps and bedtimes. And we were right about the importance of play.

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