Some time ago, I wrote an article lamenting the apparent decline in the pursuit of physical activities as entertainment.
I argued on these pages that we are in danger of becoming the proverbial collective noun of “couch potatoes” (“homebodies” or “sluggards” as one quick search on Google informs me) and we are in danger of becoming not just addicted to our gadgets and streaming devices, but of becoming really rather boring people in general.
I contended that the two-year misery that was COVID contributed significantly to this increasing lethargy and decline in physical recreation as an entertainment focus. So, now with those days – hopefully – becoming ever more a distant memory, I thought it perhaps prudent to glance once again at the topic.
On average, we spend perhaps less than one-quarter of our days in the pursuit of entertainment or in “downtime” (as I believe is the current phraseology), so we must spend it wisely in pursuit of activities that will leave us both fulfilled and refreshed, ready to once again spring back into the daily battles that are life.
Our “me time” should consist of events and activities that are going to leave us with a sense of contentment and serenity going forward but is it necessary for them to actually be stimulating?
Let us consider.
Reading is a pastime that many of us may enjoy for example, and in this day and age, it is, of course, possible for us to have access to literally thousands of books, articles, magazines, and the like at the click of a button or two. Indeed, we can attach our Kindle to our smartphones and away we go indefinitely, but, then….what should we be reading? Are there any rules or regulations, written or otherwise, that we should be adhering to?
An example. More than two decades ago, whilst still in the early stages of my love affair with Indonesia, I happened to be engaged in teaching a private lesson. I and the chap fortunate or unlucky enough to be studying with me got into a conversation regarding the topic of reading and we quickly ascertained that we shared a fondness for doing so. However, while I confessed to a preference for reading novels, and modern-day “trash” novels at that, my student declared he only ever bothered himself with the pursuit of non-fiction materials, with, as I recall now, a particular inclination towards materials focussing on historic matters.
My own particular idiosyncrasies were dismissed, rather snootily I felt at the time, as being “a waste of time”. Now, although not exactly chuffed at my erstwhile student’s candour, it did get me thinking. Had I been guilty of selling myself short in terms of how I preferred to spend some of my free time? Could my time be better employed in the pursuit of more “meaningful” activities, or, at least, reading materials, or was I more than justified in spending my free time in any way I saw fit as long as it didn’t actually affect anyone else?
To be honest, it is a conundrum I have yet to totally satisfactorily answer until this day. Is it important to be well-read, for example? Must one force themselves to read the classics of Bronte, Shakespeare, Dickens and the like, or should King, Grisham and Steel suffice if we so wish? Some would contend that it pays to be well-read – whatever that means – while others respond by saying that attitude merely encourages an unbecoming pretentiousness as the only reason for the majority of us to be ordained in the words of the Bard, for example, is so we can engage in pseudo-intellectual conversations with like-minded souls.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. While it can be a shame to witness people failing to reach their full potential in life through a lack of drive or motivation, who are we really to judge other people’s life choices, especially when it comes to how they spend their free time? Any certain activity or pastime may seem an immense waste of time or no conceivable benefit to one person – or even, to the majority of people – but may well bring hours of fulfilment, joy, and even comfort and mental well-being to another. We just don’t know.
What is important, however, is that we take something from the entertainment we are indulging in. Personally speaking, all too often I will spend a day not “achieving anything”. By this, I do not mean I am simply doing nothing worthwhile, but worse still, I am actually wasting time or doing something that I do not have to do nor enjoy doing. An example is when I spend hours going down the rabbit hutch that is the internet with no real aim or target in mind. I simply jump from site to site, from article to article, with no purpose or goal in sight and before I have realised it, a large portion of the day, or my free time anyway, has been eaten up.
I would also contend that it is important to maintain a healthy balance between physical and mental relaxation and meaningful and challenging activities. While we all like to just chill out sometimes, it helps to have a plan even here. It is not “a waste of time” to spend a day or two catching up on sleep if we are really exhausted or have been burning the midnight oil recently. In fact, it can be beneficial to do so, sometimes. Likewise, an evening or two watching Netflix or doing nothing more taxing than glancing at the newspaper or some nonsense on YouTube can also do wonders for rejuvenating the blood flow and getting things back on track, but even here there should be a purpose, I believe.
To summarise, I think it is necessary to circle back to the rhetorical questions I posed at the beginning of the article. I believe that the period we spent locked down in COVID-19 days has affected many of us to a long-lasting degree. I feel attention spans are frequently shorter in many cases, and some of us tend to flit about from one activity to another, ostensibly lacking the ability to concentrate or commit to any one engagement for very long.