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Work, Leisure, Entertainment

Summer draws near, and we begin to consider how we will spend our days. In his book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper (1904-1997), a German philosopher, offered a helpful framework for considering the relationship between work, leisure, and entertainment. Here’s how he differentiates them:


Work. Pieper saw work as a necessity, a means to an end. It’s the effort we put in to sustain ourselves and fulfill our obligations. Work can be physically demanding or involve mental exertion, but its primary purpose is to transform the world around us and provide for our needs.


Leisure. In contrast to work, leisure for Pieper is not about achieving anything external. It’s a state of being, a freedom from the pressures of work. It’s a space for contemplation, reflection, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Activities like reading, engaging in meaningful conversations, or simply enjoying nature can be considered leisure in this sense.


Entertainment. Entertainment is the most passive of the three. It’s about amusement and diversion. It can be enjoyable, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to personal growth or deeper understanding. Pieper saw entertainment as having a place, but it shouldn’t dominate our free time.


Here’s a key point: Pieper believed that a healthy life requires a balance between these three. Work allows us to survive and contribute, while leisure provides the space for contemplation and inner growth. Entertainment, when used in moderation, can offer relaxation and enjoyment.


Have you ever read The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright? Everyone in this lively family was always doing something interesting: planning outings, reading, writing, drawing, playing the piano, modeling clay, acting… and do you remember the young ladies’ plays, dreams, outings, and Pickwick Club in Little Women? All these characters practiced finding things to do which delighted them.


At first, it takes an act of the will to choose to do something that is neither easy entertainment, nor necessary work. We feel we must pull ourselves together to begin something new, make plans, or head outside into nature. But, once engaging in leisure becomes a habit, it feels as though there aren’t enough hours in a summer day in which to fully live, to grow, to rebuild.


What will you choose to do this June and July?


You can learn more about the nature of work, leisure, and entertainment in these two titles:

  • Leisure, the Basis of Culture by Joseph Pieper
  • Technopoly-The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
  • Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle