Doing nothing on weekends

waiting-for-the-weekend-by-withold-rybczynskiThere have always been breaks from the routine of work–taboo days, market days, public festivals, holy days–we couldn’t survive without them. In Waiting for the Weekend, Witold Rybczynski unfolds the history and evolution of leisure time in Western civilization, from Aristotle, through the Middle Ages, to the present. Along the way, he explores how the psychological needs that leisure time seeks to fulfill have changed as the nature of work has changed.

A history of how the weekend came to be and an exploration of what it means to take a weekly break from work. To get an idea of whether you’d like the book (which is sadly out-of-print), read The Atlantic essay of the same name.

Withold Rybczynski ends Waiting For the Weekend with a warning: The weekend has imposed a rigid schedule on our free time, which can result in a sense of urgency (“soon it will be Monday”) that is at odds with relaxation. The weekly rush to the cottage is hardly leisurely, nor is the compression of various recreational activities into the two-day break. The freedom to do something has become the obligation to so something….”

The weekend has become the chief temporal institution of modern age, it was invested as a retreat and refuge from labor. Think about it, few of us regularly ask each other, “How was your(work) week?”. But the salutation and interrogative, “How was your weekend?” is common.

Weekends, Rybczynski suggests, are in danger of becoming their own antithesis. We try too hard to make up for the “pain and emptiness” of the week by doing things and staying busy all weekend long.

For too many of us, concludes Rybczynski, weekend represents a different and sometimes a more pleasant way of staying busy and consuming time. But he says, genuine free time, real leisure, must remain just that” “Free of the encumbrance of convention, free of the need of busyness, free for the ‘noble habit of doing nothing.'” And clearly, “doing nothing” does not describe the modern weekend.


Aristotle wrote, “We work, in order to have leisure.” Today, this is still true. But is the leisure that Aristotle spoke of, “the freedom to do nothing”, the same as the leisure we look forward to each weekend?



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