Why Leisure is a State of Mind

Written by Paul Marchildon, on February 10, 2013.


“WORK consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and PLAY consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Our work ethic, especially in North America, is too strong. We work too much.

We spend too much time on what we are “obliged” to do, and not enough on what we want to do. Mark Twain, who considered himself a “connoisseur of idleness,” said that work was a “necessary evil to be avoided.” Yet, he was an incredibly prolific writer, humorist, and sought-after speaker and lecturer. Perhaps he understood that we, with our relentless drive and stoical work ethic, forget that work and leisure are states of mind, not fixed periods of time.

At any given time, you are either in a state of leisure or a state of work. It doesn’t matter if it is 9:30 on Tuesday morning or 10:00 on Friday night. You may find yourself in these states regardless of where your body actually is and whether or not you’re actually “on the clock.”

When you are in a state of leisure, you experience a sense of timelessness, of fulfillment. You are intrinsically motivated to do whatever it is you are doing. We typically associate leisure with not being at work; in fact, according to “leisure visionary” and psychologist John Neulinger, when one is engaged in an activity that offers intrinsic rewards and “perceived” freedom, one is at leisure. When the activity involves extrinsic reward, for example your paycheck, than one is not at leisure. But because leisure is a state of mind, there is no reason why we can’t be at leisure and at work.

Looking for Work Life Integration?

Paul Marchildon, an experienced Leisureologist, can work with you and your team to increase productivity by incorporating leisure into the workplace.

Now why on earth would corporations want their people to be at leisure when they’re supposed to be doing stuff? It’s a matter of reframing the concept. You’re not asking people to work less. You want them to be more engaged in what they are doing so it may not seem like “work” at all. They are staying until 7:00PM not because they are “working,” but because they are passionate about a project and get personal rewards from getting it completed.

Seem hard to believe? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, architect of the “Flow” concept, says, “We wait all week for Saturday to come and moan that we never get enough free time, but surprisingly, we’re happier at work than at play.” But, because we think we like free time better, we want more, even though it doesn’t make us as happy. Why?

Csikszentmihalyi says it is because we achieve a state of flow, of working towards a challenge and being completely engaged without being overwhelmed, more commonly at work. In our quest to relax, we don’t engage in activities that will create flow experiences. In other words, watching an entire season of Law and Order in one sitting is not going to challenge the mind and engage the imagination the way working out a problem that is especially well-suited to your skill set does.

Dr. Neulinger described leisure as “being at peace with one’s self and what one is doing.”

Leisure is not the antithesis of work and productivity; it is a key driver of them, and of our personal happiness.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.