September 2, 2005


A guide to kicking back
by Meredith Hines-Dochterman

Is there anything better than waking up Saturday morning, stretching lazily and realizing there is nothing to stop you from falling back asleep? Nowhere to be, nowhere to go — nothing but hours of free time is on the horizon. For once, the clock doesn’t rule you, you rule it.

I love Saturdays. Of course, as a mother of two young children, my Saturday begins only an hour later than my weekday mornings. Still, I eagerly await my children’s teenage years when all they’ll want to do on a Saturday morning is sleep. I plan on sleeping, too. Yet Tom Hodgkinson would disagree with me. “…the earlier they can be trained to get themselves up and prepare their own breakfast, the better” he writes in How to Be Idle (HarperCollins, 2005, Hardcover, 304 pages)

He could be on to something.

How to Be Idle is Hodgkinson’s charming book that rebels against everything we’ve been taught. The secret to happiness isn’t hours filled with work, family, sport and business lunches. To be happy, one must sleep regularly, spend time with friends, nap frequently and — gasp! — spend hours doing NOTHING! Hodgkinson adamantly believes that people will benefit from daydreaming. And why not? As the founder of the Idler magazine writes, it is not only the businessmen clocking 80-hour weeks that achieve success. There are countless poets and writers that never stepped a foot in an office but still managed to garner more accolade than Donald Trump’s hairstyle.

Hodgkinson’s work of history, social criticism, self-help and humor is cleverly set up as a typical 24-day, with each a new chapter exploring a different time frame. At 8 a.m., he laments the invention of the alarm clock, wondering who designed the device that rudely pulls people from their dreams, forcing us to listen to an annoying buzzing sound or an even more annoying disc jockey.

At 9 a.m., Hodgkinson questions the obsession of jobs and points out how children grow up listening to their parents’ complain about their jobs, but never hesitate when the time comes to get their own.

“We think it will be different for us,” he writes.

Other chapters explore the death of the lunch hour, the joy of taking sick days (being ill is optional) and the art of meditation. He also expresses disgust at Britain’s embrace of Starbucks. Today’s coffee shops, he writes, don’t resemble the coffee shops of the 18th century, which readily encourage loafing and conversation. No, today we enter, stand in line, quickly order our cappuccino, pay and move over two spaces to wait for our cup of liquid energy.

“The modern Costas and Starbucks have as their secret mission purely useful goals: give you strong coffee and some bread to help you survive the day in a state of high anxiety and fear,” Hodgkinson writes. “They give off the unpleasant aroma of efficiency.”

It’s so true.

Let’s face it. As a whole, Americans live on stress. We are constantly striving for the next big job, the next big move, the next big house. We compete with the Jones, we wake up at 4:30 a.m. to hit the gym by 5. We consume vast amounts of fast food and we berate ourselves every time we stare idly out of a window. With the invention of the wireless computer and cellular phone, it’s possible to work in our cars or on the beach during a vacation. We do it all the time and don’t even think twice about it. We truly have gone mad!

Perhaps now is the time to follow Hodgkinson’s lead, and all the idlers before him. We need to make time for ourselves — time to focus on what we love to do, whether it’s reading a trashy novel, going fishing, having drinks with friends or sleeping all day. For all of his bravado, Hodgkinson doesn’t believe we all need to jump of the crazy merry-go-wheel of life (He understands there are some in this world that will never be able to do that), but there’s nothing wrong with slowing down a bit to look at everything around us.

After all, even God took a day off to rest.

Meredith Hines-Dochterman can be contacted at


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