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‘Commuting is one of the things we hate.’ (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
‘Commuting is one of the things we hate.’ (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Keynes' theory

Where’s our life of leisure? Add to ...

“Today’s emphasis on meaningful leisure finds many people looking for some extrinsic benefit. For purists, that does not meet the basic criterion of intrinsic motivation as a defining quality of leisure. Unobligated time is only one way to define leisure, and perhaps not the most effective.There’s an old adage: ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’<TH>Some schools of thought recognize one’s ideal work as a form of leisure, or even play. So individuals who ‘work’ hard may actually enjoy what they do. Once their dedication results in stress or poor health, then the negative side effects indicate that they are not at peace – spiritually, intellectually or physically. They are out of balance. In general, technology has decreased support personnel in industry. Companies that used to employ clerical support staff now expect anyone with access to technology to become relatively self–sufficient, and accessible 24/7/365. For many, having the courage to unplug results in such high levels of anxiety (what did I miss?) that they can’t relax, clear their heads or mentally disconnect from family or work obligations. Even scheduling a vacation or spa day can result in frustration – having to rearrange other responsibilities and face the work and unanswered e-mails upon return to routine. Personal e-mail and household management takes time and is no less onerous.” – Veda Ward, professor of recreation, California State University

“Leisure did increase over the last 50 years. Prime-aged men have reduced market work hours in the U.S. Most of this occurred prior to the 1980s. Prime-aged women have reduced time spent working in cooking, cleaning, etc. In the last 30 years, however, high-educated individuals have experienced a slight leisure decline, while low-educated individuals have experienced gains. So there is still some cross-sectional heterogeneity that needs to be explored. Finally, because retirement ages have increased only modestly, relative to increases in life spans, the amount of lifetime leisure experienced over the last 50 years has been dramatic. [But] these additional gains occur post retirement. We always retired around 65 (on average). In recent years, we are living to our early 80s; in 1960, we only lived to the early 70s. So Keynes was not really wrong.” – Erik Hurst, professor of economics, University of Chicago

“Time has the quality of pace as well as duration. The pace of life has accelerated, as efficiency has become the number-one value of the U.S. – it’s almost number one in Canada, but things are a bit slower there. … Efficiency and the open-ended materialism and greed that characterize our culture combine to make time seem scarce. And the desire to increase the marginal utility on time means that all human activity is sped up. Activities that can't be sped up decline in popularity. Almost all sports, for example, have been sped up – or attempts are being made to do so.” – Geoffrey Godbey, Professor Emeritus, Penn State University


Why do people continue to work so hard?

“People, and many economists, believe we can’t afford to work less – that we need to work to keep our economy going. This is a cultural belief, rather than an economic reality. North American society has created a culture where material goods are valued more than leisure time. As a result, while people do continue to value leisure time, they believe they must work to have the right to leisure time.” – Amanda Johnson

“The Alberta Recreation and Parks Association did a neat survey in the 1997 where they asked a simple but elegant question: What is most important to you: work, leisure, or both? The responses were 43%, 29%, and 27%, respectively. In 2007, they asked the same question and found that leisure was now most important (46%), followed by work (32%), and then both (21%). This finding, along with some research on the values of Millennials (those born in 1990 or after, such as the university students I teach), suggest that leisure is at least as, if not more important than work. So what's up? Well, we're stuck in a seriously crummy economy, with a millstone around our neck in the form of high household debt. But just you wait. I’m playing the potential fool here I know, but I really do see a fundamental change coming in how Canadians value their leisure, once the world economy gets straightened out.” – Gordon Walker

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