We’ve been taught the importance of developing a strong work ethic since we were kids. I only recently learned about the need to develop a leisure ethic. There’s a difference between leisure and recreation. Leisure is lying on the beach. Recreation is getting up to play Frisbee.

I learned about the leisure ethic in an eye-opening article titled, “I studied people who think leisure is a waste of time, here’s what I found,” by Ohio State Professor Selin Malkoc. She is a native of Turkey and finds the need of Americans to constantly “do stuff” to be troubling.

She surveyed over 100 students to get their views on leisure. She found that those who saw leisure as a waste of time derived less enjoyment from leisure activities than those who found it important. They were also more likely to be “stressed, anxious and depressed.” 

She expanded her survey to include people from France and India. She found very few French people having a negative view of leisure. The people from India were more like Americans and saw leisure as a waste of time.

What’s wrong with us? You would think we were founded by Puritans who embraced the Protestant work ethic like it was sacred. Americans don’t realize how long and hard we work compared to our counterparts in other developed countries. We get the fewest paid vacations, yet Americans forfeited over 200 million vacation days last year. 

This may partly be due to COVID travel restrictions but people could have still used the off days for “stay-cations.” It’s encouraging, though, that many people are using their down time for leisurely activities, like walking and biking. The pandemic forced us to re-evaluate our priorities and find pleasure in simple activities like walking a dog, or pushing a stroller. 

Retirement has helped me develop a leisure ethic. I bought a season pass to the Forest Park Aquatic Center and went swimming as often as I could. I didn’t bring a book, or phone. I swam laps and talked to people. On one visit, I spoke with a woman from Poland.

She was critical of Americans for being workaholics, who don’t know how to enjoy life. She is a nurse, so she’s no stranger to hard work. In Poland, though, she enjoyed four weeks paid vacation and had many days off to observe religious holidays. Family is important to her, so she’s going back to Poland for a month to see her elderly mother. Her American co-workers think she’s crazy to forfeit a month’s pay this way. 

Spending time with family can be a pleasant way to spend leisure time. I enjoy time with my grandsons every week. It’s a win-win because it’s fun for me and gives their mothers a break. Some people fear retirement because they’re worried they’ll be bored, or go broke. 

I’ve seen so many go back to work because they miss the structure. That’s because they see down time as idleness. Idleness is forced inactivity. It can be unpleasant, guilt-inducing and lead to boredom. Leisure is deliberately doing something for pure enjoyment. 

Many Forest Park residents value leisure and want to preserve the greenspace at Altenheim for leisure activities. Sure, we can enjoy leisure at The Park but it’s mostly geared toward recreation and structured activities, like sports. 

As Ralph DiFebo observed, the Altenheim could provide a flexible space for leisure and recreation. It would have paths for leisurely walks and space for passive recreation, like viewing art, listening to music, or watching a play. 

Who knows? A game of Frisbee could even break out. 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.