Leisure requires thought, particularly the kind of thought we call contemplation. This isn’t the analytical thought we apply when making difficult decisions or assessing the quality of someone’s conversation. It’s also not daydreaming. Pieper describes it as the mode of “man’s spiritual and intellectual knowledge, [which includes] an element of pure, receptive contemplation, or as Heraclitus says, of ‘listening to the essence of things.’”
Leisure is deep reflective thinking, not speculating or fantasizing, but pondering. In a world where most of us tend to relocate every few years and keep in touch via text, it is rare to have a friend with whom to contemplate. It is most probably difficult to have an occasion in which to ponder the divine if you live in a city miles from the serene, silent, open country, and your days are scheduled to the minute.But ponder it we must, because it means turning our attention toward realities beyond work and considering different understandings of happiness, such as Aristotle’s (human flourishing in accordance with virtue), Plato’s (love of wisdom), and Christ’s (personal knowledge of God’s eternal love for us). We consider our own value differently, such as when St. Paul calls us “children of God” or St. Thomas Aquinas says the human soul is “a mover moved.” These are not ideas we can absorb quickly; we need time and space to think them through.
The pursuit of happiness is not a trivial one, and the pangs of FOMO should push us to ask hard questions about what we believe about ourselves: Where does our value come from? What do we hope will make us happy? We won’t find the answers in social media, a thrilling job opportunity, or a romantic relationship. We will, however, find them in contemplation, in a festival or a “walk in the country,” in dwelling with the divine, where we can hope to find the peace revealed to the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God.”