“Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem — how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.” — John Maynard Keynes
Today I woke up to a cool, crisp November morning. During the night the chill air had managed to gradually, patiently creep in through the windows, under the door. It was cold. Galileo and Atticus, my four- and two-year-old boys, were already into mischief in the living room by the time I emerged from beneath the duvet. The three of us slipped on our waterproof boots, embraced the fresh air, and located the axe in the woodshed. The boys took turns exerting their full strength to cart a hardwood log onto the shopping block, and then scamper a safe distance away so that I could let the axe fall through the air and perform its duty. Half an hour later, the Godin wood burner sung its song of warmth in the kitchen, a day’s supply of fuel stacked snuggly by its side.
Such simple but satisfying avocations are all too uncommon in the hubbub of modern life — they have been in mine, at least. That is, except for the past few months. After five years of working in a startup — one year of which involved straddling two companies, and a further year multitasking to write a book — I decided to take a break.
And so, my family and I have spent August, September, and October camping in Scotland and Cornwall, cycling through the Cotswolds, and living in the Dordogne region of France, chopping firewood and fuelling the wood burner.
A Life of Leisure?
John Maynard Keynes, in his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, predicted that you and I would only need to work perhaps 15 hours per week, and that the challenge of our generation would be in occupying our overabundant leisure time. How distant from reality this now sounds as, for most of us, work occupies the lion’s share of our attention, effort, and time. Which isn’t a bad thing, for work is about much more than simply making a living; at its best work is challenging, rewarding, and thoroughly enjoyable in its own right. But every so often, it’s worth taking a break from the fast and furious to appreciate life’s simple pleasures, to go outside and chop firewood in the crisp morning air.
Now three months in, I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and full of enthusiasm for my next work project, now quietly underway.
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Work hard. Enjoy your work. But take a break every now and then to, in the words of Keynes, “cultivate the art of life itself.”