To most of us in the Modern era, leisure time is understood as a break from work. We tend to identify more with our ‘productive’ side and place a higher value on our work identity than we do on the time spent off the clock. But according to the 20th century German philosopher Josef Pieper, leisure time is deeply meaningful and may even define us more than we realize.

Josef Pieper: Sisyphus and the Defense of Leisure from Chris Lambert on Vimeo.

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) is the author of many books and articles that applied philosophical ideas to everyday life situations, including his most acclaimed book, Leisure: the Basis of CultureIn this book, Pieper looked at the growing emphasis of Western culture to make one’s work a defining feature of one’s life and identity. As a Catholic philosopher, he saw the emerging workaholic culture of the post World War II era as a real obstacle to people’s ability to pursue religious and intellectual contemplation and personal growth.  In his words:

“The original meaning of the concept of “leisure” has practically been forgotten in today’s leisure-less culture of “total work”: in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on that world of work.”

Pieper argues that leisure is not a trivial part of life, but instead the time when reflect deeply and evolve as humans.  Today there are many voices offering balms to the burn-out, depression, and imbalance that American workers suffer, and they echo Pieper’s recommendation to value idle contemplation and personal growth. If you would like to know more about Pieper’s work on leisure, this is a great PBS-style documentary on the book. 

If you want to jumpstart a group discussion in your community about the true meaning of leisure, contact Carmelo Dávila (director of the Working Lives Project ), to talk about WHC programs. 

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