Saturday, July 27, 2019

On Active Leisure

"What? You say that full energy given to those sixteen hours will lessen the value of the business eight? Not so. On the contrary, it will assuredly increase the value of the business eight. One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of a continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change - not rest, except in sleep.

- "How to Live on 24 hours a Day" by Arnold Bennett

This week I finished Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. I've been a fan of Cal Newport after reading his previous books such as Deep WorkHow to Win at College, and So Good They Can't Ignore You. When he published his new book about adopting a minimalist approach to digital life, I wasn't first in line to pick it up though. He's been sharing his point-of-view on his blog for the last few years and I'm a total subscriber to his proposal. I've deleted my Facebook app from my phone since 2013 and don't spend a lot of time on social media in general. My husband and I make it a rule not to use our phones at all while eating out.

So when I picked up a copy from the local library, I didn't expect to get any major new ideas. However, the book ends up shedding light on a new topic - Leisure.

To be exact, how active leisure (demanding activities) is preferred than passive consumption.

Have you experienced this: it's the weekend and all you want to do is relaxing. So you decide you'll deliberately be "unproductive" - not doing anything demanding like work, serious reading, or doing anything hard. Instead, you spend hours watching Netflix, wander around the house, screen tapping.

I've certainly done all these - in the spirit of "relaxing". But almost always end up feeling more tired than when I began.

In Digital Minimalism, Cal advocates replacing these low-quality, passive leisure activities (i.e. watching Netflix, browsing social media, etc) with high-quality leisure. Examples of high-quality leisure includes building something for your house, exercise at home or go a class, take up a craft, join a social group, cooking a recipe - in other words, something demanding

It's counter-intuitive, isn't it? In his influential book "How to Live 24 Hours a Day", Arnold Bennett argues that expending more energy in your leisure can end up energizing you more. Cal gave a few good examples to further confirm this point. Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, prefers to spend his free time working on various construction projects. He gets satisfaction from "making stuff". Liz Thames, the blogger of the popular Frugalwoods blog, meet the demand of rural life by spending leisure time clearing trails, harvesting wood, and plowing snow. Both Pete and Liz are part of the FIRE (financial independence retire early) community. They are not driven financially to take up these demanding activities (both are financially independent), but by reaping multiple levels of benefits from these seemingly demanding activities: physical exercise, better mental health, something tangible to show for (like a new guest house, or a cleared driveway).

This "bias towards action" attitude definitely agrees with me. A good weekend for me is always those that are more structured and full of actions. Exercising, writing blog, visiting friends, trying out a new recipe are a few popular activities.

Cal offered a list of example activities you could do on a single weekend - things like changing your car oil and installing light fixture. Inspired by his list, I develop a list of my own:

  • Practice Chinese calligraphy (a childhood of mine)
  • Start a garden plot (from Cal's list)
  • Learn how to hem pants (essential skill for a person standing at 5 feet...)
  • Vacuum and clean my car 
  • Cook new Vietnamese recipes 
  • Exercise outdoors in our community park
  • Learn new skills via websites such as Coursera
  • Join something (groups, organizations, volunteer work, etc)
  • Reach out to more friends and make plans to meet up
What's your take on leisure and what activities do you like to take up?

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