Yet, time-budget studies do not confirm the thesis that Americans are, on average, working longer than a generation ago. On the contrary, one recent study reports a five-hour per week gain in free time for the average American between 1965 and 1985, due partly to the reduction in time spent on housework, and partly to earlier retirement.
So where has the time gone. Unsurprisingly, statistics indicate that Americans spend much of their free time watching television, viewing videos/DVDs, and shopping. Our free time is engaged in activities where we ‘veg out’, and we actually look forward to shutting off our brain.
Instead of turning off the mind after work the great psychologist and social scientist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that it is during leisure hours that we should open up to new challenges-snow skiing, rock climbing, singing, writing, reading or some other activity.
This is critically relevant for the age we live in. Where people are so overly involved in their occupations. Where their very self-definitions are based on employment, career and vocation. And where so many people literally say the words "I don't have time to think."
Consider the most contemptible employer Pharaoh, who commanded, "Let the heavier work be laid upon the men, let them keep at it, and not pay attention to deceitful promises" (Exodus 5:9). Pharaoh's purpose was not only to prevent the Israelites from having any leisure to make plans against him, but by subjecting them to unceasing toil, to deprive them of the opportunity to reflect as well.
The greatest tragedy of work, whether overseen by a Pharaoh, or self-imposed, is the loss of opportunity for reflection. But our tradition teaches us that the process of self-reflection and self-examination is the beginning of the path of holiness.
One of the most disturbing time-budget statistics relates to vacations. The time people spend for each vacation has shrunk more than a third over the last decade--to a paltry 4.6 nights away from home--and we no longer are ever truly released from work; our pagers, cell phones, and laptops, we are only on a long leash to the office.
In order to achieve the kind of active/leisure that Csikszentmihalyi suggests, we need to create the time that is required for invigorating pursuits. Rafting, cycling and painting require a commitment of time, which the traditional vacation used to afford us.
I hope that each of us, during these summer months before the High Holidays, find the opportunity to create meaningful space for personal growth, that we make the time to enhance the quality of our lives, by regaining consciousness, and that in the process, we become more alive in the moment. Including those moments when we are chained to the desk.
Have a safe, relaxing and meaningful, summer.