A lot of my reflections in recent years have grown out of questions about how best to use free time.
Most of us are well aware of how busy we are, and rightly so; if we aren’t independently wealthy from a young age, then the majority of us spend a large part of our day in education or work or both, and apart from a brief period of bachelorhood in young adulthood, most of us are kept busy too with family life or with the romances that can precede family life.
The majority of us, though, also have more free time than we tend to realize. It usually fills itself up without our needing to make any effort, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it, or that we can’t make decisions about how to use it.
Some of the less good (but not necessarily strictly bad) ways to use free time might include reading fiction and scrolling on social media (two of my minor vices), watching tv shows and movies, and superficial socializing. None of these are evil, and they can all have their place, but there’s an opportunity cost. All of the things we would legitimately describe as real vices fall here too, and of course they are not nearly so harmless.
Many of the good things we want to pursue would also fit here as well. Want to get to the gym or get more exercise? For the vast majority of us, that will take up some free time. Planning for and grocery shopping for and prepping and cooking healthy food, likewise. Learning languages, studying worthwhile topics, learning new skills. Making wise financial decisions. Investing time in family and close friendships. Trying to improve the world in whatever ways are available to us.
While there are lots of leftist concerns and proposals that I think are valid (as I’ve written about here previously), efforts to use free time well seem to me to be a more right-wing preoccupation, thanks to the emphasis on individual responsibility.
Admittedly, such efforts are often in practice misguided, but the effort still counts for something, is at least the necessary if not the sufficient condition for self-improvement. It can be good to accept ourselves as we are, and it is reasonable to ask what forces outside ourselves have led to the bad outcomes we suffer, but too heavy a focus on those factors takes away from the opportunities that really do exist to escape our circumstances and improve our lot.
We can’t always change things for ourselves, but we can always try, and if we try we will often find at least some measure of success. Given that, it is important to try to find not just good ways to spend our free time but the best ways to spend it for the goals we set ourselves. Over time we can improve not only ourselves but also the measures we take for self-improvement.
If that’s the project, as I’ve tried to make it for myself, then over time, it’s hard to doubt that life can only get better.