Ever noticed anything funny about beach vacations?
I’m sitting on the powdery white sand of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s a classic beach tourism spot: rainbow colored umbrellas cover the white sand as far as the eye can see. Middle aged couples stroll along the shoreline collecting shells; small children in floatation devices shriek excitedly from the water as waves roll over their heads; my brother and his friends are throwing a lime green Nerf football around, hoping to attract the attention of bikini-clad girls; the unmistakable smells of sunscreen and saltwater fill the air… it is truly the cliché summer destination (although I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it immensely). From the tacky t-shirt shops to the seaside cantinas, I love beaches in the summertime. Every day feels like the Fourth of July – a festive celebration of life, family, friendship, and sunshine.
One of the things I find the most endearing about lazy days at the beach is the sight of hundreds of people lounging upon beach towels reading books. Gasp! I mean, think about it: besides a school library, where else can you go to see so many people reading books, real books with actual spines and worn pages? Call me old fashioned, but there is something about holding an actual paper book in your hands that gives you a feeling tablets cannot come close to.
Have you ever thought about how funny that is? It’s this unspoken rule of life at the beach: those books collecting dust on your self that you’ve never had the time to read? – well, here’s your chance. There’s nothing else to do while you’re soaking up the sun.
But why is it that something as simple (and important) as reading a book has become a luxury activity that most people these days reserve exclusively for vacation? – as if it is a special privilege that only rolls around once or twice a year (if we’re lucky).
In classic “Hannah” fashion, there are very few things I enjoy calling out in my blog posts more than the harm of living with a utilitarian mindset. I apologize for being so repetitive when it comes to this topic over the course of the past year – but if you stick with me, I hope that this post can serve as another reminder to seize the day and live life as meaningfully as possible. I don’t know about you, but I could surely use reminders of this every single day.
First, I have to get something out of the way: utility is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually a very good thing!
By utility, here I am talking about anything that falls under the category of being useful (source). In order to live life pragmatically and realistically, even the most dreamy and romantic people (fingers pointed to myself with my head up in the clouds more often than not) find themselves in every day situations where one must focus on what is necessary rather than what is excessive, idealistic, or unrealistic (or even pleasurable). How else would we be able to function as a society if it were not the particular task of every citizen to act upon what is necessary on a daily basis? Utility is an important measure for things – but (and this is a BIG “but”) it cannot be the sole measure for the value of a thing or activity.
The moment that the virtuous attitude of utility becomes the all-encompassing doctrine of utilitarianism (making utility the only measure of importance), then we begin doing ourselves a great deal of harm. The utilitarian mindset convinces us that “what is not useful is declared useless, with no right to existence. It is considered a waste of time, something futile and lacking in seriousness” (source, 32). For me, this rings a lot of bells. Living in a modern society, many people have succumbed to this mindset. Oftentimes, even well meaning parents of their adolescent children mistakenly encourage utilitarianism by labeling many leisurely activities as “frivolous.” In a hustle-and-bustle culture, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Rampant utilitarianism takes “goods endowed with high value, such as the liturgical praise of God, all bonds of love with other persons, all beauty, the whole sphere of art, philosophy; in short, all the things which are not practically indispensable,” and “[classes them] together with the superfluous and [marks them] as useless” (Ibid, 32-33). Thus, many people (myself included) slip into the opposite extreme of laziness as an attempt to escape from utilitarianism. As I’ve pointed out before, I think the key to escaping both extremes is by living a life of balance in the middle.
We must make time for leisure which uplifts us (such as reading books) while at the same time functioning as practical individuals in modern society. Bills must be paid, tests must be studied for, and responsibilities thrust upon us must be appropriately responded to. But – please – do not forget to be good to yourself.
Need a tip for how to start integrating meaningful leisure in your day-to-day living? Pick up a book. Even if it is just for fifteen minutes a day, please, pick up a book. Let’s not push this activity into the category of a “vacation luxury.” We do not need to travel to tropical destinations or sit on towels covered in uncomfortable grainy sand in order to “have time” to read. In the midst of a busy day back home, you may be tempted to think that there are “not enough hours in the day” to take for yourself. Someone once challenged me to a mere fifteen minutes per day, and I must say, it has changed my entire outlook on leisure and the worth of my own personhood.
Pick up a book. You’re worth at least fifteen minutes of leisure today, too. And if you do so, you’ll find that you have somehow transported yourself to a place where you are living with a “beach mindset” in your own backyard, without even setting foot onto a plane.