Down Time

A recent study found that having too much idle time makes us just as unhappy as not having enough free time. The research … examined the relationship between our overall life happiness and the amount of discretionary time we have … For people who have jobs, the sweet spot of discretionary time is 2.5 hours a day. For people who are retired or not working, the right amount of free time for peak happiness is 4.75 hours a day.

                                                                                ~ Tara Parker-Pope

When I retired about six years ago, I thought my days would be filled with various projects, volunteer activities and finally getting to catch up on my reading. I have always read voraciously, and always gathered books that interested me. Consequently, in addition to my book collections, my bedside table and the various shelves all over the house are replete with books waiting to be read or favorites we want to keep. Of course, my wife is a dedicated reader as well, so our collections tend to blend, although our preferences differ.

Being an eclectic reader and collector, I sample many genres and styles: fiction and non-, stories and novels, action and romance (with a preference for the former), historical and sci-fi, biography and auto-, kids, young adult and ‘mature’. It depends on my mood and what’s going on in my life at the time. Sometimes it’s a fast read, escapist and compelling. Some days, it’s something slower and deeper, more detailed.

However, a funny thing happened on my way to retirement: I slowly began to not read books. In the first couple of years I reread many of the books in my collection: Burroughs (ER and John, not WS), Haggard, Ruark, Appleton (Victor Sr. and Jr.), Burton, Fleming, Milne, and more. I found new authors and titles to blow through – Rowling, Child, Macfarlane – the list goes on. But, weirdly, I’m not. My reading of books has come to a near standstill.

Volunteering as a Trail Patroller for Jeffco Open Space and in the 6th Floor Playroom at Children’s Hospital took some of my energy, but left me with a comfortable space in my day to relax and enjoy the physically effortless time to read. Some of that reading led to mid-day napping. Of course, these days with the pandemic, ventures into the outside world have lessened and seem unrealistically dangerous. Shelter-in-place works fine. My wife and I get along well (her version may be a little different); we have a good dog and two loving cats; and a nice house with a yard big enough for a garden and comfortable patio. Our neighbors are friendly, and open to the occasional socially-distanced happy hour across the fence.

Our son and his lady come over weekly with take-out for socially distanced consumption on the patio, and our weekly grocery and liquor store trip adds the spice of potential danger to our lives. Our dog, Rosie, savors the chance to accompany my wife on an occasional trip to the Starbucks’ drive-through, and looks forward to slurping her Puppy–ccino in the back seat. Yard work, gardening, housecleaning and cooking keep us diverted, but leaves plenty of down time for other things (like writing).

So, I found this article by Parker-Pope about hobbies to be relevant. She asks, “In your quest for a balanced life, have you neglected your hobbies? As children, we are experts at finding hobbies. We play sports, take dance and music lessons, collect action figures and spend our days learning everything from languages to wood shop. But somewhere on the path to adulthood, we stop trying new things and spend less time on our non-career interests. It’s not too late.”

Yeah, I agree that having a full-time job and full-time family intruded on my free time. And, I admit, I didn’t make time for those extra activities, hobbies I guess, to keep me sane. She elaborates, “A large body of research suggests that how you spend leisure time matters to your health, and that your hobbies are good for you in many ways.” She goes on to detail the various benefits: better physical health, more sleep, lower stress, happiness, more friends, improved work performance — and a hobby can even fill in with satisfaction where your regular day job leaves off.

She provides tools and a calculator to define how you are wasting your ‘free’ time and how to get it back. She describes how to make time for your hobby, pick the right hobby, and how to organize your hobby. She warns, “One of the reasons our calculations of free time don’t match our reality is that we can lose time doing mindless things like checking email and social media, and clicking around the internet. And sometimes, we just do nothing.“

Well, that pretty much sounds like retirement to me. For years, at least since high school,I was always driven to do something: school, sports, family, jobs, vacations, social activities, volunteer activities, self-improvement, and all those other things.

Maybe now, given my retirement, the pandemic, all the political chaos and my general laziness, maybe now it’s time for me to do nothing. I can sit and watch the birds at the feeders, play with the cats and the dog, visit with my wife, and contemplate the nature of life, the universe and everything (thank you, Douglas Adams).

Sounds good to me.

Additional information:

Tara Parker-Pope, How to Find a Hobby, 10/11/19, The New York Times,

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