How To Be Idle Summary

  • Last updated on March 25, 2021
"infobox Book"
nameHow To Be Idle
orig title
authorTom Hodgkinson
countryUnited Kingdom
media_typePrint (Paperback)
isbnISBN 9780141015064
How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, aims to change the way idleness is viewed. In the author’s own words: ‘There’s a revolution brewing, and the great thing is that to join it all you have to do is absolutely nothing.’


Waking Up is Hard to Do

We should be free to lead our lives as we choose. A bit of 'time-wasting' isn't bad if it enhances our happiness. A little down-time can actually be very productive as it allows us to step back and examine what we are doing, and creative inspiration often comes subconsciously in background thought. Maximum productivity does not translate to maximum happiness.

Toil and Trouble

Self-employed independence is a much happier state than employment as a slave, and before the Industrial Revolution that is how most people worked. But in pursuit of enhanced productivity, society seeks to force all citizens into compliant productiveness, even if they are not made happier so. Religious and political doctrines have served to further this aim, and these days advertising keeps us trapped in materialistic status-seeking.

Sleeping In

Robert Louis Stevenson noted in 1885 that 'Idleness ... does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formularies of the ruling class.' John Keats declared that 'it is more noble to sit like Jove than to fly like Mercury'. Oscar Wilde lauded the 'life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming'. And yet idlers are often viewed by society as people with too much time to think, who could become revolutionaries.

Skiving for Pleasure and Profit

Skiving is a legitimate reclaim of one's free time for fulfilling pursuits not approved and dictated by society.

The Hangover

Hangovers needn't be viewed as an essential cost of hedonistic living, but as a period of enforced idleness after the fact which can actually be enjoyed if we take care to avoid trying to be unsuitably productive at such times.

The Death of Lunch

Lunch should be an enjoyable end in itself, not just a refuelling pit stop. Food should be savoured, not gobbled down as 'fast food'.

On being Ill

When we are ill, we are suddenly able to do exactly what we want to, without suffering any disapproval or guilt for doing so. Convalescence was in the past a lengthy time of healing; nowadays we pop a pill and rush back to work, which risks infecting others. We need to assign time for illnesses.

The Nap

Interspersing naps between periods of activity is healthy and natural. Even very industrious people recognise the value of the nap - Winston Churchill took one every afternoon and viewed it as helping him to accomplish more, and businessmen extol the value of 'power naps'.

Time for Tea

Drinking tea should be a leisurely affair, as an ideal accompaniment to philosophical meditation. Expedients such as tea-bags and drinks machines run contrary to the whole spirit of tea.

The Ramble

Walking should also be done at a leisurely pace, with mind immersed in contemplation, and eyes enjoying the feast of sights along the way rather than simply fixed upon the destination.

Walking is then a voyage of discovery and an act of carefree roaming, which can imbue us with spiritual freedom.

First Drink of the Day

Alcohol relaxes and enlivens us, adding pleasure to the end of our day.

On Fishing

Fishing is an ideal activity for the natural idler, affording hours of quietly inspiring contemplation punctuated by occasional moments of exciting action. The water has a mesmerising effect, and catching a fish isn't what matters: the real purpose is to enjoy the time and concentrate on simply being. Life should be about doing what we want to rather than what we have to, and mastering it is a lifetime's study. But we all get there in the end, because death eventually brings total idleness.


Ignorance is bliss, so the sixteenth century bore us anxiety alongside new awareness of the world. Fortunately it also brought us tobacco as antidote to stress, as much needed today as it has ever been.

The Idle Home

Planning negates our ability to go with the flow in life, and also brings a tendency to attempt to control other people's lives along with our own. Idlers prefer to keep their lives and living spaces simple, attuned to their own personal needs, and resisting the efforts of outsiders to persuade us to unnecessarily complicate or embellish them, or to impose their own meddling rules and principles upon them.

The Pub

The pub stands as a central pillar of the community, and a free place of gathering for the common man. Their popularity cannot be quenched, either by government attempts to limit them or by exclusive trendy bars seeking to displace them.


Strikes are the perfect tool for idlers seeking to assert their rights. But if their grievances remain ignored, the idler may eventually be forced into action, at which times a lot of latent energy may be suddenly and violently released in the form of riots. In past centuries such resistance has fought against monarchs and governments, but today's idlers battle consumer capitalism, seeking to be independent.

The Moon and the Stars

The mysterious majesty of the stars is an inspiration to idlers, who yearn to emulate their freedom and remote constancy.

Sex and Idleness

We should enjoy our sexuality free from guilt, whatever form it may take. Sexual activity should be a relaxed and languorous pleasure, as opposed to either being merely functional or a forced demonstration of lovemaking skills and athletic prowess. Ideally, the rules of relationship conduct could be a little more relaxed too.

The Art of Conversation

Conversation should be animated, open, engaging, and unrestricted in form and time available.

Party Time

Intoxicating drugs and music can melt away our cares and procure us a transcendental spiritual experience. We cannot spend our entire lives in such a trance, but we can endeavour to bring some of its sense of ease and freedom into our normal lives.


Meditation provides an escape into a world of inner peace. There is no particular way in which it has to be done: simple daydreaming is enough, as is any relaxed chill-out after energy has been expended in joyful pursuits.


Sleep has a similar effect, and is an essential requirement for us to be able to function well. Sleep is natural, and is important for creativity: Albert Einstein slept ten hours every night. Technology should focus on buying us increased time for sleep, rather than finding unnatural ways to overcome it.

On Holidays

Holidays are yet another way of escaping everyday life, and automated labour should allow us increased time off work. However it would be better if we could incorporate leisure time, fun and flexibility within our normal daily life, so that we could enjoy our entire lives, rather than enduring long drudgery which is periodically relieved by a few days to get away from it all.

A Waking Dream

In so doing, we can seek to weave our dreams into reality. Dreams reveal our true aspirations, as distinct from society-sponsored goals such as career and financial status. Our creativity comes alive in dreams, and falling in love is a state of immersion in them. The art of living is to bring dreams and reality together.

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