A Theory of Leisure Time, Choice, and Happiness

This is finally the end of my first week in Japanese language school here in Kyoto. It’s been quite a long week, with the most studying I’ve ever done in my life. We’ve gone through nine chapters in a week, and just Friday received two more books for learning Kanji. We’ll learn our first 50 Kanji in a week, alongside the rest of our classes. I already know some words here and there, but for the most part, much of what we’ve just learned is a blur, which is forcing me to use almost all of my free time in running to catch up.

Having very little leisure time has been good in some ways. It’s been a marked change in the cozy, comfortable lifestyle of sitting in front of a computer screen all day, doing tasks which were somewhat challenging but ultimately not rewarding. Those days in Silicon Valley were ended with a gratuitous amount of free time (which is unusual, working for a startup). Which seems nice for a while, but becomes a bit maddening after long, at least for me.

I remember moving to Silicon Valley and buying my TV and PS3 and everything to set me up with all the comforts of my new lifestyle. After coming home from work, I would waste away my time on my computer, my TV, or my video games. After long it was pretty easy to see the same mundane cycle develop: wake up, work, waste time, sleep. Rinse, repeat. Ad nauseum. Ad absurdum.

It became apparent that this lifestyle wasn’t really healthy, mentally or physically. It would be better, I thought, to live in a city where I needed to walk around from place to place, or take public transport. San Francisco is perfect for that, but I gave the city (or should I say “The City” as folks there do) a shot and it never really grew on me. In my short time here on Earth, I’ve found there are other cities that are better suited to me. I wanted to find a city I liked, which ended up being far away Kyoto, where I’m at now.

My unhealthy physical lifestyle, combined with too much free time, had resulted in an unhealthy mental state. I believe lack of exercise leads to deteriorated mental performance as well as depression, and this is what I believe I experienced. This combined with too much free time, solitude, and a brooding time resulted in days where I’d come home from work and attempt to distract myself by browsing the internet the rest of the day. I ended up absorbing the highly-prized gift of free time which I wasted with abandon, before going asleep and starting the cycle over again.

Now, after becoming a student, I have relearned what it’s like to have every little free time. I’m stressed out and overwhelmed already (as a beginner Japanese language student), but it feels good in a lot of ways. I feel alive, but I also feel like I’m not squandering my free time, or worrying about what I do with the free time I have. In a lot of ways I think I became maddened with the choice, and maddened with brooding in my free time over my life path and the usefulness (to society) of my career choice. Maybe I had chosen the wrong one? I wonder what it would be like if I had chosen to live in Japan after all?

If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret both;

Laugh at the world’s follies, you will regret it, weep over them, you will also regret that; laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both; whether you laugh at the world’s follies or weep over them, you will regret both.

Believe a woman, you will regret it, believe her not, you will also regret that; believe a woman or believe her not, you will regret both; whether you believe a woman or believe her not, you will regret both.

Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will also regret that; hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both.

This, gentlemen, is the sum and substance of all philosophy. (Kierkegaard)

This passage by Kierkegaard gives a lot of insight into the brooding mind of an existentialist, but arguably offers us a glimpse at the modern human predicament. We make choices daily, and we also make great life-changing choices. It’s natural to think “Would I have been better off if I did it differently? If I choose differently?”.

Kierkegaard himself, if I remember right, lived off of his family’s money and didn’t have to worry about work. He had an excessive amount of leisure time, and perhaps that influenced the amount of time he had to brood over his life’s choices. He certainly had enough time to write down these thoughts, so I would think that his thoughts themselves were more numerous than his writings.

Since I no longer have too much free time, but rather too little of it, I have that much less time to brood over matters. I have made my choices for now (moving to Japan, studying Japanese full time), and I will only know if I’ve made the right decision after spending more time giving this path a try.

This is good in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways, the choice of what to do in my leisure time has been made for me. I must use it to study.

The choice is made! The existentialist dilemma has been, at the very least, temporarily pushed aside.

And at the very best, the existentialist dilemma has been conquered. “Live in Japan or do not live in Japan, you will regret it either way”. Now I have done both. I’ve now lived on both sides of the coin, on both sides of the world.