"It is amazing how few people are conscious of the importance of the art of lying in bed."

Lin Yutang


"The happiest part of a man’s life is what he passes lying awake in bed in the morning."

Samuel Johnson


"I am of the opinion that inner happiness is impossible without idleness."



"We are closer to the ants than to the butterflies. Very few people can endure much leisure."

-Gerald Brenan


"If you once turn on your side after the hour at which you ought to rise, it is all over. Bolt up at once."

Sir Walter Scott



"To those who sweat for their daily bread, leisure is a longed for sweet-until they get it….there is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and abundance without a dread."



"A life of leisure and and a life of laziness are two things."

-Ben Franklin


"It is in the interest of every man to live as much at ease as he can."

Adam Smith


   "The only people really at leisure are those who take time for philosophy. They alone really live. It is not their lifetime alone of which they are careful stewards: they annex every age to their own and exploit all the years that have gone before. By the exertions of others we are led to the fairest treasures, raised to the light out of the darkness in which they were mined. No age is forbidden us, we have admittance to all, and if we choose to transcend the narrow bounds of human frailty by loftiness of mind there is a vast stretch of time for us to roam. We may dispute with Socrates, doubt with Carneades, repose with Epicurus, transcend human nature with the Stoics, defy it with the Cycnics. 

   None of these will force you to die, but all will teach you how. None of these will wear your years away, but rather add his own to yours. Conversation with them is not subversive, association not a capital offense, and no great expense is involved in cultivating them. You can carry home whatever you like: it will not be their fault if you do not draw as deeply as you like from their well-springs. What felicity awaits the man who has enrolled as their client, what a fair old age! He will have friends with whom he can deliberate on matters great and small, whom he may consult about his problems ever day, from whom he can hear truth without offense and praise without flattery, after whose likeness he may mold himself."



"What have we got here in America that we believe we cannot live without? We have the most varied and imaginative bathrooms in the world, we have kitchens with the most gimmicks, we have houses with every possible electrical gadget to save ourselves all kinds of trouble-all so that we can have leisure. Leisure, leisure, leisure! So that we don’t go mad in the leisure, we have color TV. So that there will never, never, be a moment of silence, we have radio and Muzak. We can’t stand silence, because silence includes thinking. And if we thought, we would have to face ourselves."

Agnes De Mille


"There can be no high civilization where there is not ample leisure."

Henry Ward Beecher


"It is because artists do not practice, patrons do not patronize, crowds do not assemble to reverently worship the great work of Doing Nothing, that the world has lost its philosophy and even failed to invent a new religion."

G.K. Chesterton

On Leisure, Generally Speaking (1928)


"This wasted time I have found by constant experience to be indispensable as sleep. It cannot be employed in reading, nor even in thinking upon any serious subject. It must be wasted on trifles-doing nothing. The string of the bow must be slackened, and the bow itself laid aside."

John Adams (diary)


"Leisure is not gained by simply being out of work. Leisure is spare time free from anxiety."

Ezra Pound


"Idleness and the incapacity for leisure correspond with one another; leisure is the contrary of both. Leisure is only possible to a man who is at one with himself and also at one with the world. These are the presuppositions of leisure, for leisure is an affirmation. Idleness, on the other hand, is rooted in the omission of these two affirmations."

John Piper


   "Leisure is the noblest name of all. We have come to use it for the unimportant or superfluous things, or for the retired life. "Leisure Villages" usually imply complexes composed of people who have retired from business and activity. The word "leisure" itself comes from the Greek word skole, from which we get the word school. And yet, few of us would probably describe what we do in school as "leisure." On the other hand, it seems odd that such great thinkers as Plato and Aristotle would associate leisure with the end of all we do, that they would hold that leisure is that for which we do everything else. But this is what they in fact claim."

James V. Schall

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs


"Idleness was a sin not against the self or against God but against Mammon and Pierce & Pierce."

Tom Wolfe

Bonfire of the Vanities


"A faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity."

Robert Louis Stevenson

"An Apology for Idlers (1881)


"But sometimes I think that idlers seem to be a special class for whom nothing can be planned, plead as one will with them-their only contribution to the human family is to warm a seat at the common table."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Letters of F. Scott Fitgerald


"….Most people, when they are left free to fill their own time according to their choice, are at a loss to think of anything sufficiently pleasant to be worth doing. And whatever the decide on, they are troubled that something else would have been pleasanter. To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level."

Bertrand Russell


"There is abundant data which suggests not only that hunter gatherers have adequate supplies of food but also that they enjoy quantities of leisure time, much more in fact than do modern industrial or farm workers, or even professors of archaeology."



The real problem of your leisure is how to keep other people from using it.


"A man can never have too much time to himself, nor too little to do. Had I a little son, I would christen him NOTHING-TO-DO; he should do nothing. Man, I verily believe, is out of his element as long as he is operative."

Charles Lamb (1833)


"Our moral nature is such that we are unable to be idle and at peace. A secret voice warns that for us idleness is a sin. If it were possible for a man to discover a mode of existence in which he could feel that, though idle, he was of use to the world and fulfilling his duty, he would have attained to one facet of primeval bliss. And such a state of obligatory and unimpeachable idleness is enjoyed by a whole section of society-the military class. It is just this compulsory and irreproachable idleness which has always constituted and will constitute, the chief attraction of military service."



The last significant congressional legislation pressing for reduction in the length of the workweek (to 30 hours) was scuttled by President Franklin Roosevelt after being passed by the Senate in 1933


"But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house , to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody. There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.

George Orwell (1937)


See article: Why Can’t We All Just RELAX?

By Verlyn Klinkenborg

Civilization. June 1997



By Steve Lopez


I used to be very good at doing nothing. I’d go for a walk nowhere in particular, lie on the beach, look at the clouds. If I were feeling ambitious, I might have a cigar.

Those were heady days, and I slept well. But nowadays, if I have nothing to do, I do something instead. I didn’t have to write this little essay, for instance. Before doing nothing became a lost art, one that I had put a lifetime of training into, I would have gone up to the roof deck for a good nap. I definitely would not have taken the laptop up there.

A pox spreads through the land as we close out the century. We’re all hooked up to everything but peace of mind, and it shows in the cathode pallor we carry; we are a Night of the Living Dead army of zombies wondering if we’ve got unopened e-mail. Nobody, with the possible exception of Congress, knows how to do nothing anymore.

Go to a movie, and some sap is wining out of the theater with a pulsing beeper. Go to the beach, and some self-important fool is on a cellular-probably calling the guy in the movie theater. No one under 30 can walk down the street without a stereo strapped to his head. What ever happened to the moment of quiet reflection and the slothful joy of idle thought? Does anyone remember sitting on a porch and watching the world slide by?

Here’s a quiz to gauge how far gone you are. Answer yes or no, and be honest:

1. I have gone on the Internet and checked the weather in a city I’m not even going to

2. I have called my own voice mail more than once in five minutes

3. I have checked both e-mail and voice mail while on vacation

4. I have punched in number above 100 on the TV remote just to see if anything comes in

5. I have spelled out "words" on my cell phone that can be read only upside down, as in 07734 for hello

Embarrassed yet? They said technology would simplify your life, and you believed them. Now your creditors can track you down six ways in a minute, and your boss owns you round the clock. You’re a monkey on a chain.

A few weeks ago, I boarded a plane, which used to be a great place to do nothing, and noticed that the man next to me was a nervous wreck. I considered wrestling him to the floor, but he looked more like a nicotine fiend than a terrorist. So the plane takes off, we hit the electronic-device clearance altitude at 10,000 ft. and Mr. Jitters whips out a Game Boy.

To bring down the energy level, I began twiddling my thumbs. There I am in the clouds, free of all earthly distraction , when I notice that the phone in front of me has a data port. You can send a fax from 3 5,000 ft. Or check e-mail. The entertainment guide has two pages of instructions, in four languages, and three more pages on the personal video monitors in first-class.

Here’s one vote in favor of the y2k disaster. I’d organize a national day for doing nothing, but all that work would send the wrong message. So I’ll lead by example. I’m taking Mr. Jitters’ Game Boy and smashing it. I’m shutting down. I’m not even going to finish this mess…….

Steve Lopez


article: "Essay: Quitting The Paint Factory: On the Virtues of Idleness" by Mark Slouka Harper's Mag/Nove 2004

Book: "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed" by Carl Honore

Book: "The Joy of Laziness: Why Life is Better Slower-and How to Get There" by Peter Axt Ph.D. & Michaela Axt-Gadermann M.D.

Book: "Thorstein Veblen: Theorist of the Leisure Class" by John Patrick Diggins


© 2001



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