The Art of Active Leisure: How Wisconsin grain farmers do more with an hour than we do with ten

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A good friend and coworker of mine grew up living inside the World’s Largest Badger.  Really though, the badger/house was an attraction on his mother’s game farm in Waupaca County, Wisconsin, and his bedroom was approximately where the badger’s clavicle would be, were it a real badger.  His family had lived in Wisconsin for generations, many of them hard-working, sweat-and-toil farmers.

This is an actual photo of the actual badger.

This is an actual photo of the actual badger.

Once, during a long talk over a fifth of decent gin we had stowed in a storeroom at the office, he described to me how the rural grain farmers in Waupaca made use of their few hours of leisure a week, an hour or so after sunset each day, and all day on Sunday.

If I had to spend six out of seven days working from sunrise to sunset, I would want to spend my one day off laying back, resting up for another arduous week, but this is one of many reasons why I wouldn’t make it long in rural Wisconsin.  Instead, these farmers use their leisure not as a time of rest, per se, but as a chance to rejuvenate themselves and pursue the self-actualization that they have little time for during the workweek.

Depending on the person, this could take the form of reading a good book, sharpening a new skill, or spending quality time talking with friends and family.  The point is, their leisure time isn’t spent disappearing into the couch cushions; it’s used for self-betterment; mentally, physically, and spiritually.  According to him, this quality use of leisure is what enables them to go back into the fields at dawn Monday morning without feeling consumed with labor and toil.

Though I have far more leisure time even in my busiest weeks than these farmers, I feel constantly stunted in my efforts to use my time off wisely.  Even if I have six non-sleeping hours away from work on a given day, chances are high that these hours are spent consuming something, whether it’s food, drink, or entertainment.  Rarely, if ever do I use this leisure time to give back to my friends, my community, or even myself, and as a result I rarely return to work the next day feeling renewed or rejuvenated.

When confronted with this reality, my instinct has been to blame the matter on not having enough time to do anything of merit, and I tend to bemoan my lack of leisure time and assure myself that I will do more one day when my life circumstances lend me the time and energy to do so.

Sure, I could save up money, quit work, move to Thailand, and have all the time in the world to devote to self-actualization, but I think that it’s not all about the quantity of leisure, but rather the quality.  Even though I have ambitions to find a new way of life that affords more time for leisure and personal pursuits, wouldn’t it be all the better to first learn to use my limited leisure time effectively?  Well, as with everything here on One Week Without, there’s no time like today.

What is Active Leisure?

I’ve decided to list and categorize all of the activities I enjoy doing in my spare time into two groups: active leisure activities, and passive leisure activities.  To be considered active leisure, there has to be a strong element of physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental growth that isn’t superseded by raw entertainment value (in example, I grow somewhat from watching certain TV shows, but their value as a source of entertainment far outweighs this growth, whereas going hiking or reading philosophy have a more balanced ratio).

Here’s what I came up with (and I’m sure it will differ for everyone):

Active Leisure:

  • Exercise (running, hiking, bicycling)
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Reading informative, thought-provoking works
  • Playing & working on music
  • Cooking, especially using a new recipe
  • Having insightful conversations with others
  • Playing sports
  • Being artistic (painting, crafts, etc.)
  • Trying anything new

Passive Leisure:

  • Television
  • Casual drinking
  • Reading fluff
  • Napping
  • Playing darts or pool
  • Surfing the Internet
  • Browsing social media

As I look at these two lists, I feel energized just by reading the active leisure activities, and yet I spend almost all of my leisure time doing things in the passive category.

Passivity breeds more passivity, and once I do anything on the passive list all I want to do is continue doing that, or do something else that requires little energy or involvement.  On the other hand, even when I’m feeling exhausted, if I go to do something active I usually feel energized right away.

As such, I’ve decided to make the pursuit of active leisure a parallel pursuit alongside the One Week Without challenges, as there can be no better time to integrate growth-oriented activities and habits into my life than when I’m creating more free time and energy by eliminating other habits, vices, and luxuries.  In the weeks and months to come, I’ll touch on this repeatedly, and will use the concept of active leisure as one of the lenses through which I’ll evaluate each Week Without.


  1. ScubaSteve says

    Active vs passive leisure is a great distinction to make, and its so true. Being productive with your free time always leaves you feeling fulfilled and energized. I find that if I’m happy with how I spend my free time, that gratification carries over into work.

    Great insight and good vibes. Keep it up.

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