“Amusement is a sort of relaxation, and we need relaxation because we cannot work continuously.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
“Leisure is the end of toil.”
Aristotle, Politics

Aristotle distinguishes two kinds of downtime: amusement and leisure.

Amusement refers to those activities we do because they are fun, or diverting, or simply relaxing. We play a game, ride a bike, go out on a boat, or watch a movie. We enjoy these activities even while they have no obvious product or utility.

Leisure refers to activities that are more serious: we have a deep conversation, we lie on our backs observing the stars, we listen to great music. We contemplate deeper things, we worship God.

Amusement and leisure share a common element: they are not work. But this similarity points to their fundamental difference. At the end of the day, amusement is less important than work, and it takes its immediate meaning from the fact that it serves work, by refreshing us to go back to our labors.

Leisure on the other hand is served by our work. It provides the ultimate meaning and justification for human work.

Some have made the mistake of seeing work as giving meaning to life. Others have made what is perhaps an even worse mistake: seeing amusement as the point of life.

At the center of Aristotle’s worldview is the conviction that certain human activities contain their meaning within themselves—and thus should give meaning to everything else we do. These he calls leisure activities.

Vacation by definition is time off from work, and a major element will certainly be in amusement. This amusement can be done in such a way that it plays its role in life well, by serving our work, as well as by serving our leisure. But all amusement is not equal. We will want a discerning eye.

Our vacation can also have another element. It is a great opportunity to cultivate those activities that are the point of human life. Such activities are the very essence of ‘having a good time together.’ They will require practice–and special times set apart in which to practice them.


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