Do you feel like you’ve started a race against time? Is 24 hours a day not enough for you? You are not the only one, the world is spinning at breakneck speed and many times we cannot cope with everything. Daily obligations, tasks and commitments hardly leave us free time.
Therefore, we tend to believe that the more free time we have, the more we can enjoy life, the more relaxed and happier we will be. Free time has become a coveted prize for effort.
Perceiving it as something so valuable, it is understandable that we want to make the most of it. In fact, some people end up pushing themselves too hard to squeeze out every last drop of their leisure time. Then they fall into a trap: instead of resting they end up more exhausted, instead of feeling happier they feel more dissatisfied.
How has our concept of leisure changed over time?
The way we perceive and value leisure has changed problematically in recent times. Understanding that evolution and finding ways to change our attitudes could help us relax, have fun, and be happier.
However, despite all the changes that the concept of leisure has undergone over the centuries, one idea remains constant: its opposition to work. Two thousand years ago, the concept of work was linked to servitude and leisure to freedom. In Ancient Greece, for example, most work was done by slaves while wealthier people could engage in leisure activities that were supposedly more rewarding.
In fact, Cicero himself wrote: “The citizen who gives his work in exchange for money is degraded to the rank of slave.” At that time, free time was that which was dedicated to activities for which no economic retribution was received, but were carried out for the pleasure they generated in themselves.
Later, the Romans began to see leisure as a way to recover to face the work that would come, a concept that was engraved with fire in the popular imagination during the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century, leisure had already been definitively associated with a powerful social status since only the rich could afford to have a lot of free time.
Nowadays, our concept of leisure has changed again, as indicated by a study carried out at Boston University. For decades, people began to show off being very busy. A full schedule became a symbol of economic success and social status. As a result, we have developed the idea of ”hedonic utility”; In other words, make every hour of that leisure count too. The concept of productive work has permeated leisure, so we also want to take advantage of free time.
Leisure maximizers, people who want to squeeze their free time
Economist Daniel Hamermesh explains that “Our ability to buy and enjoy goods and services has increased much faster than the amount of time available to enjoy them.” This disagreement is manifested in our decisions. For this reason, “We want to make the most of our money and time. We invest more money in leisure, in booking better hotels, having better experiences and, in a general sense, buying the best of everything.”
That desire to make the most of our free time leads us to spend hours and hours perusing reviews to plan every last detail of a trip, a getaway or even a dinner. Of course, planning things is not bad. But spending too much time on it could backfire because our expectations are likely to get so high that our chances of being disappointed increase.
Likewise, the way we pursue leisure experiences is making that free time more stressful than ever. In this sense, a study carried out at the Columbia Business School showed that we are becoming collectors of experiences. In practice, instead of enjoying the moment and letting ourselves go, we increasingly look for leisure experiences that are unusual, novel or extreme to fill our “experiential curriculum vitae”.
The problem is that, like a traditional resume, in which we show our best, this experiential resume can become a breeding ground for competition. Obviously, social media exacerbates that focus on productive leisure by animating the competition to showcase the best vacation, the best dinner, or the best relaxing experience.
That obsession to take advantage of free time and fill it with the best experiences ends up being a double-edged sword. When we have such high expectations, it increases the chances that this leisure will not end up being as significant, productive or spectacular enough as we thought, which will make us dissatisfied.
Then it settles the feeling that we have not made good use of our free time. And that creates even more stress by the time we have to plan our next free moment. In this way, the leisure time that should help us disconnect, relax and have fun becomes a further source of stress and dissatisfaction.
What is the solution?
To get back to enjoying free time, the most important thing is to shed that productive mindset. We need to take a broader perspective on life and understand that not everything is measured in terms of productivity. Life doesn’t have to be productive, it has to be lived.
The persistent fear that we are not using our time “correctly” because we do not have epic experiences to show on social networks can completely derail the true purpose of leisure. The only way to enjoy your free time is to relax, let your guard down, create fond memories, and trust the pieces to fit into place.
Entering those hours of leisure with full attention is the best way to savor each of the experiences, from the greatest to the seemingly simpler. In fact, mindfulness broadens our subjective perception of time, improves memory, and amplifies sensations. That means that we will feel more satisfied and happy with the experiences we live.
If we approach the holidays or the weekend with the “should” mentality, thinking that we have to make the most of those hours, we may end up ruining the leisure experience itself. Don’t let the belief that you “need to make the most of your free time” end up setting you up.
Imtiaz, A. (2021) The way we view free time is making us less happy. En: BBC.
Bellezza, S. et. Al. (2017) Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol. Journal of Consumer Research; 44: 118-138.
Keinan, A. & Kivetz, R. (2011) Productivity Orientation and the Consumption of Collectable Experiences. Journal of Consumer Research; 37: 935-950.