Work and Play, Are They Really Different?

Have we been trained not to enjoy ourselves?

Are work and play really different or is the differentiation simply a choice we make? Do we choose drudgery as work, so in contrast fun seems that much more fun? Aren’t we simply engaged in activities we choose to label?

  • This activity is play
  • That activity is work
  • Another activity is fun

Why can’t what we do for money, be all three?

Is it okay to work all the time? Is it okay to have fun and play games all the time? If work was fun and playful, then would it be okay to work all the time?

These questions came to mind as I was reading Zen Effects the Life of Alan Watts by Monica Furlong. After living a bohemian lifestyle for over a decade, Alan Watts became an Anglican priest and moved into suburban Evanston Illinios.

Monica Furlong says:

“His Evanston neighbors weren’t all that much to his taste. The main preoccupation of most of them was making money, which Watts thought might be rather fun to do—a clever game, like bridge—only people seemed to have to pretend not to enjoy it.”

Monica goes on to quote Alan Watts himself:

“It must most definitely be classified as work; as that which you have to do as a duty to your family and community, and which therefore affords many businessmen the best possible excuse for staying away from home and from wives. The Nemesis of this attitude is that it flows over into the so-called leisure or non-work areas of life in such a way that playing with children, giving attention to one’s wife, exercising on the golf course, and purchasing certain luxeries also become duties. Survival itself becomes a duty and even a drag, for the pretense of not enjoying the games get under the skin and rightens the muscles which repress the joyous and sensous emotion.”

Monica goes on to say:

“Watts clearly was still struggling with his protestant roots, using his resentment of them to make observations about the link between work and play. For him the barrier between work and play did not exist.”

What I thought was most interesting was how leisure activities can become chores. I know I feel that way sometimes.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Work and Play, Are They Really Different?”

  1. Hi Steve,

    I recently picked up “The Red Rubber Ball at Work” by Kevin Carroll, a book that explores this change between spending our time at play to spending our time at work, and how some people have established a clear difference between the two, to their detriment, while others have used the same foundational play from their childhood to enhance and make fun their lives at work. I’ll excerpt from the intro:

    “I’ve heard it said that we don’t outgrow play, we only change what we call it. If playing capture the flag requires problem solving–‘How can I outwit my opponent?’–then why don’t we view problem solving on the job–‘How do I outsell my competition?’–as a form of play?”

    The book primarily consists of the stories of those who have taken the skills they developed by playing and made their jobs revolve around those skills (and more of that playing).

    From this post, thought you might be interested.

  2. I can definitely feel that way sometimes. It starts out you do it just because you enjoy it. So, you do it when you want and it feel good, but what happens is when you try to live off of that activity, it’s no longer I get to, but it becomes I have to. To get out of this “I have to” mode I get into gratitude. In the morning I will list in my mind all the things I am grateful for, my relationships, material possessions etc. This gets my mind to shift from negative to positive. Of course we all have those days where it just feels like work and I’ve learned it’s ok to have those days, I can’t be so hard on myself.

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