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Leisure and diversion

In order to define what leisure is, it is necessary to state its relationship to the needs of the individual, even when the individual fulfills these needs as a willing member of a group.Leisure appears to be distinguished by a search for a state of satisfaction—a state that is sought as an end in itself. This activity is of a pleasure-seeking nature. To be sure, happiness is not simply a matter of leisure, since one can be happy while carrying out basic social obligations. But the search for contentment, pleasure, and delight is one of the fundamental characteristics of leisure in modern society. Nobody is tied to a leisure activity by material need or by moral or legal obligations, as is the case with the activities of getting an education, earning a living, or carrying out civic or religious ceremonies. The prime condition of leisure is the search for a state of contentment; it is enough to say “That interests me.” This state can consist in the denial of all tension, study, or concentration; but it can just as well consist in voluntary effort or even in the deferment of gratification. Whether the avocation involves battling against the elements, against a competitor, or against oneself, the effort of perfecting one’s performance or one’s wisdom can be greater than that spent on one’s regular occupation and may even approach the intensity of religious discipline. But it is an effort and a discipline that is chosen voluntarily.

Leisure and personality. All the manifest functions of leisure, to judge from their effect on the persons concerned, answer to individual needs, as distinguished from the primary obligations imposed by society. Thus leisure is directly associated both with the possibility that the individual may deteriorate (for instance, if he becomes an alcoholic), and with the fact that the individual is free to defend the integrity of his personality against the attacks of an urban industrial society that is becoming less and less natural and more and more regimented and run by the clock. It is associated with the realization, whether encouraged or discouraged, of unbiased human potentialities —in short, with the whole man. Such realization, whether or not it accords with social needs, is conceived as an end in itself.

The positive functions of leisure can be summed up as follows.

(1) It offers the individual a chance to shake off the fatigue of work that, because it is imposed, interferes with his natural biological rhythms. It is a recuperative force, or at least an opportunity to do nothing.

(2) Through entertainment, whether of a sort permitted or forbidden by society, leisure opens up new worlds, both real and imaginary, in which the individual can escape from the daily boredom of performing a set of limited and routine tasks.

(3) Finally, leisure makes it possible for the individual to leave behind the routines and stereotypes forced on him by the workings of basic social institutions, and to enter into a realm of self-transcendence where his creative powers are set free to oppose or to reinforce the dominant values of his civilization.

Leisure in the truest sense of the word fulfills all three of these basic functions and satisfies the human need that corresponds to each. Leisure that fails to offer all of these three kinds of choice is leisure that must be considered seriously defective.

Joffre Dumazedier (abridged from http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Leisure.aspx)

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