I believe that the illusion of free time, seen as a different world separated from everyday active life, must be replaced by the image of proactive free time—just like a day of work that satisfies us.
Free time is often defined as the time we spend outside of work. From what I have observed, we view this time as an escape and a gateway towards a completely different world. Some of us are convinced that if we had the necessary resources, we would spend all our free time in this magical space.
When we combine the words “time” and “freedom” in our minds, a utopian space is projected, in which we find ourselves happy because we do things other than those imposed by our daily obligations.
From a purely rational perspective, however, time can never be free, because it is always busy with a series of activities that give us a metric on the quality of time. And then, what can we do to make our free time not just a refuge, which we occasionally withdraw to, but an integral part of our daily lives?
From an early age, I was taught that between September and June I have obligations because I have school. Then, from June to September, I could escape to another world, the summer vacation, the continuous free time when I could do whatever I wanted. This free time, however, was disappointing compared to the freedom it promised. I was raised to believe that work was all I had to do, and my free time was the realm for everything else.
That part of my time dedicated to work is what made me content and free.
I became convinced that there was an antithesis between work and leisure. However, looking back, my greatest satisfaction and my most beautiful memories are from school. Somehow, that part of my time dedicated to work is what made me content and free. I don’t think I have many memories from vacations that I consider really relevant.
Nowadays, I feel that I can be truly free not when I am in a space where I am disconnected from everything that is happening in life and society, but the opposite, when I see what is happening, when I hear new things, when I read, when I have something to do, when I talk to people, when I travel, when I understand problems and find solutions.
I am happy if I manage to occupy my free time with an exhausting challenge. If I were to disengage, that wouldn’t be living.
This is one of the reasons why I do not believe in free time as it has been presented to us since childhood by society.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about people who have much more pleasant experiences as a result of work and not as a result of free time. He conducted a study that showed that people feel much more creative, satisfied, and happy at work than in their free time because, in their free time, they feel that their skills are not put to use, so they are lower-spirited and more frequently bored.
However, paradoxically, those who participated in the study wanted to work less and have more free time. The idealisation of the perspective that free time is a space where we get away from work and do nothing makes us want something that does not seem to really satisfy us.
Proactive free time
Looking at past experiences and the types of leisure activities, some of the most boring have always been the beach holidays, where you spend all day at the beach. First of all, such holidays are always monotonous, they do not create memories or stories, they do not transform you, and they are not very stimulating.
The solution is not exhaustion for the sake of exhaustion but filling free time with transformative activities.
In contrast, a vacation where you visit new places, where you connect with people from a new city, where you join them in the activities of their communities, where you enter their world, or a holiday that takes you out of your comfort zone and after which, in the end, you get home more tired than you left, provides the most vivid memories, which give us meaning. The solution is not exhaustion for the sake of exhaustion but filling free time with transformative activities.
The problem with mythicising our free time is that we often spend it in ways that do not make us happy, but in which we hope to be happy, influenced by external factors. James Wallman, in his book Time and How to Spend It, emphasises that free time does not improve the quality of life, unless it is used effectively. We need to use our skills to solve those challenges that make us feel motivated and give us a sense of control over a situation. To be satisfied, free time must be structured as an interesting and satisfying job.
I believe that we have the power to create proactive free time every day and to live that free time in a relevant way.
Economist Erik Horst presented the following statistics in a speech at the University of Chicago: “In 2015, 22 percent of lower-skilled men aged 21–30 had not worked at all during the prior 12 months.” Horst mentioned another category: three-fourths used their time to play video games and reported a higher level of happiness than their generation average. Thus, it was not the free time itself that made them happier, but the motivation generated by the video games. It is not free time that makes you happy, but those things in which you feel that you are reaching some goals, that you are challenged and in which you manage to overcome yourself.
In conclusion, I do not believe in free time as a utopian space in which I can sit idle and do nothing, but I believe in free time, a proactive free time, in which I can discover a new passion, learn a new skill, participate in a themed club, learn a new language or a new sport, start a project with friends, and in which I am connected with the life around me.
I believe that we have the power to create proactive free time every day and to live that free time in a relevant way. I believe that we can live the ideal of free time if we give up the myth of free time—that of escaping into a “utopian” world, in which we can continually taste the freedom of time. Proactive free time is the free time I believe in.
Răzvan Crăciunescu believes that relevant free time should be structured so that its beneficiaries feel as fulfilled as they do during an efficient working day.