Full time leisure is not the path to happiness

This may sound like an obvious thing to many who are well on there way down the Financial Independence path and have absorbed much of the philosophy surrounding it, but I think for those still firmly stuck in their cubical farms it is not something that would come to mind naturally. Even if they read it on some random blog someone sent them they might initially dismiss this statement as absolute hogwash 1.

If I remember back to my “pre-enlightenment” days, before I knew FI and early retirement was a thing, and even for the first couple of months of going down this path, I still thought that the ultimate goal was to loaf around, play golf and generally just indulge yourself, as this is the received wisdom of the crowd which seems to have been adopted from the American Dream to our little island, like so many other ideas have been.

But it soon became clear, at least it to me, that this is not the sort of thing you want to be doing for long term happiness, and I’m writing about it today for two reasons: i) I don’t think I’ve ever written about it before and ii) It came to the forefront of my mind again fairly recently as I had a couple of months of practically pure hedonism, which as fun as it was still left me with a feeling that my life was kind of missing something.

Consider that during this period, I had 4 weeks off work and downed tools to pretty much any other projects I have going on (Matched betting, this blog, etc…), could the missing piece of the happiness puzzle be… dum dum daaaaaaannnnn….


“Sacrilege! Burn him at the stake!” I hear the hardcore retirement-ists say…

But apart from my little bit of anecdotal evidence, there is mountains of other evidence and literature in both the FI sphere and the wider world to back this up.

Before we go any further though, let’s be clear we are talking about the kind of leisure you might describe as “casual leisure” as opposed to “serious leisure”, these definitions are taken from the Serious Leisure Perspective:

  • Casual Leisure –  is immediately, intrinsically rewarding; and it is a relatively short-lived, pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training to enjoy it. It is fundamentally hedonic; it is engaged in for the significant level of pure enjoyment, or pleasure. Examples of this are relaxation e.g. sitting, napping, strolling; passive entertainment e.g. TV, books, recorded music; active entertainment e.g. games of chance, video games; sociable conversation, and sensory stimulation e.g. sex, eating, drinking.
  • Serious Leisure – is the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer core activity that is highly substantial, interesting, and fulfilling and where, in the typical case, participants find a career in acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience.

Serious Leisure can easily lead to being paid and the IRP 2 don’t like the sound of that, so that doesn’t count as the kind of casual leisure (which I will now just refer to again as “leisure”, much to everyones relief!) we’re referring to here when we say “Full time leisure is not the path to happiness”.

OK so with that said, here is some (quite a lot actually!) evidence, should you still need it that doing some kind of work that you find motivating is actually good for ya and why full time leisure will probably actually end up making you kinda miserable…


You may get bored and your brain cells will die a slow and painful death

Done By Forty’s post on Boredom, Cognitive Ability, and the Mental Retirement Effect has got some doozies in it such as:

And what about when they’re just resting, like Satchel Raye hanging, out on the beach in Florida?
GILBERT: The answer is about as unhappy as when they’re working or commuting.

As well as this, it suggests that if we don’t engage our brain with some kind of hard to think about problems there is a genuine cognitive decline on average. This seems to ring true to me… use it or lose it, right?

The same can be obviously said about the body, so too much relaxation will make you end up flabby, bloated and feeling like a lazy turd floating around a swimming pool. And this also links back to the previous point with the popular aphorism “healthy body, healthy mind”.

The obvious takeaway here is if you are going for full time FI you need something “work like” to keep your brain occupied and you need to schedule in regular activity and exercise to keep your brain. I don’t think doing Sudoku is going to cut it here, it needs to be something bigger like a project with a goal to work towards, and with many moving parts to think about.


You might find work is an integral part of your identity

Maybe you do a generally satisfying or all encompassing job such as The Happy Philosopher who is a Physician?

He was burnt out and unhappy but when he started down the FI path he realised he didn’t actually want to give up the huge part of himself that he’d given to being a Physician and helping people, so he re-engineered his working life into a job share where each person does 50% each… Sounds great! Even better… he then realised that his unhappiness was not down to the job per se, and that it is something to he needed to work on, so he did and is now much happier because of it – hence the name of the blog, I guess 🙂 . I’d thoroughly recommend that you listen to more about all of this in his MadFIentist podcast interview.

Or maybe you are just like Jim from SHMD who just discovered that work, along with it’s scheduling, team work, social structure and other positive attributes are something that you need in your life to remain happy? If so then that’s all good!

And I think we all have a part of this in us to a certain degree.

I think Jim is a fair bit further towards the dark side of the scale than I am, but I definitely felt the force ( 😉 ) of it even with just 4 weeks of no work and unrepentant, unscheduled fun times. So maybe after all, to take this ridiculous Star Wars metaphor to it’s logical conclusion, you know… he is my father and all of that.


Full time travel can get boring and tiring

This is the dream of many aspiring FI seekers… to travel the world, in perpetuity!

Many seem to have cracked this and are loving the lifestyle such as the GoCurryCracker crew, and that is even with GCC Junior in tow!

However there are plenty of others who have had their fill of travelling, admittedly for a decent amount of time, and then felt the pull of getting something a little more productive back in their lives, such as the OurTour couple 3.

The latest update on the guest post they wrote for The Escape Artist is telling:

Well, I’m getting geared up for a three month contract… We don’t need the money, but I need the focus of work for a while, and the money will no doubt find a home

Likewise, the MadFIentist agrees. He travelled with his wife for 3 months and after all of that one of his primary thoughts was “It’s good to be home”, a long quote here but there it’s all important to take on board:

At the end of it all though, I realized how much travel helps you appreciate home…

Another reason I’m happy to be back is because it’s hard to be productive when you’re constantly sightseeing, figuring out where to eat next, looking for flights, etc. so I didn’t get much done when I was travelling.
I’ve realized that I get a lot of happiness by making progress on projects that are interesting and important to me and I’m able to get more done when I’m in a routine so I’ve come to accept that perpetual travel is not on the cards for us.


You will always want what you can’t have and when you get it, it probably won’t make you as happy as you thought it would 4

There are two very important things to take away from that overly long subtitle, so I didn’t want to leave either out of the *bold-y goodness*.

We always want what we can’t have – I’ve written a whole post about this called The Grass is Always Greener Syndrome and it will forever be true of the human condition.

If I am working full time, I want to quit work.

If travel is limited (because of work most probably) I want to travel full time.


The way this seems to work is that if I am a bit unhappy for whatever reason then whatever my life currently looks like I will blame it on that and fantasise about pretty much the complete opposite lifestyle and think this will solve all of my problems.

When you get it, it probably won’t make you as happy as you thought 

Whatever next big thing you are planning for that you just know will bring you eternal joy, the reality of the situation is that it most probably won’t, and there is plenty of evidence for this from huge swaths of Psychological studies 5. The results are in, the happiness measurement needle of:

  • People who have big windfalls like the lottery drops back to normal levels after just a year
  • People who suffer trauma are just as happy on average after the traumatic event
  • Hedonic adaption is alive and kicking
  • If you buy a new trinket or large toy (e.g. car) the effects on your happiness are very short lived

We can infer from all of the above that a major lifestyle change to full time leisure will be fun for all of around 3 months and then the shine will wear off and you will be no happier than before.

Just like The Happy Philosopher found above you can work on your Happiness regardless of your work/life situation and turn yourself into a more happy person, so let’s stop the fetishisizing over this full time leisure thing and crack on with that instead.


final thoughts

There is a lot to take away here but the main point is hopefully quite obvious by now. By all means plan for the future, look forward to FI and all the extra time it will bring you, and certainly take some downtime and have fun whenever you can, but also make sure you plan some kind of *work* that makes you feel productive and your life is meaningful.

With all of the extra time FI (or even part time FI) brings this can be whatever you want so can let your mind run free, and that cannot be a bad thing! 🙂


  1. Hogwash is my new favourite word by the way so be prepared for massive overuse of it in future posts 🙂
  2. Internet Retirement Police
  3. Featured on the now infamous Channel 4 show!
  4. #longSubtitleAlert – sorry about that.
  5. Sorry, no references here, there is this thing called google if you want to read more!