About The Noble Leisure Project

The Noble Leisure Project seeks to identify and promote the best practices of actively engaged at-leisure individuals through research, education and community building in order to create opportunities for meaningful contribution and personal flourishing beyond work.


The Noble Leisure Project is almost 2,400 years in the making. Its roots will be found in Aristotle’s Politics (circa 350 BC). Aristotle argues that the best city is a self-sufficient city, possessing or able to obtain everything necessary for its citizens to live and to live well. The self-sufficient city will have ample stock of material goods (wealth), goods of the body (health) and goods of the soul (moral and intellectual virtue). But in addition, the self-sufficient city will have leisure. Leisure allows for more time to be spent in deliberation, particularly on matters of the greatest importance to the city; it leads to trust between its citizens and the knowledge of one another that leads to good government; it leads to science, art and every kind of learning (interestingly, “leisure” translates the ancient Greek scholē, from which we get the English words “scholar’ and “school”). Distinct from recreation or mere idleness, Aristotle insists that our leisure must be of the noble kind: activities chosen with a view to what is best.


On our modern interpretation, Noble Leisure reflects the free choice made by self-sufficient individuals to pursue what is most worthwhile. While the most worthwhile pursuit may be different for everyone, truly noble activity at leisure will be good for the actor, good for others and good for its own sake. We believe such activities will promote not only personal flourishing, but flourishing communities as well.


The Noble Leisure Project takes its inspiration from the Good Work Project, a twenty-year research collaboration between Drs. Howard Gardner (Harvard Graduate School of Education), William Damon (Stanford University), and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Claremont University). “Good work” is defined as work that is at once technically excellent and socially responsible, often in the face of rapidly changing conditions, technological innovation, competitive market forces and shifting social and professional values. Good Work (2001) captures the fruits of extensive analytic research and several hundreds of interviews of professionals who appear to have melded expertise with moral distinction. The authors conclude that not only is “good work” excellent and ethical, it has the added benefit of being personally engaging and rewarding. The Good Work Project has since evolved into The Good Project (www.thegoodproject.org), which offers “ideas and tools for a good life.” The Noble Leisure Project seeks to build upon relevant insights offered by the Good Work team and to apply them, where appropriate, to the realm of leisure. The Noble Leisure Project is inspired by, but is not affiliated with, the Good Project.


The authors of Good Work take for granted the notion that work itself admits of an excellence, and rightly so. But what of leisure? The Noble Leisure Project begins with this question. We conclude that some leisure activities should properly be considered excellent in virtue of both the activities chosen and the manner in which they are performed. We next ask whether leisure activity is exempt from social obligation (but not responsibility) and, perhaps surprisingly, conclude that it is. Leisure is, in essence, an activity free from obligation. However, when leisure activity is both excellent and ethical – when it reflects the best possible choice, is performed in the best possible way, and at the same time, exceeds expectations and obligations and is admired or honored by others – then, it rises to the level of Noble Leisure. Noble Leisure is not so much engaging as it is elevating; it reflects an expansion of individual capabilities and spirit and gives rise to the personal actualization that Aristotle calls eudaimonia (“happiness”, “success”, “flourishing”).


The Noble Leisure Project begins with philosophical, sociological and psychological research into the ideas of the noble (or “fine”, from the Greek, to kalon) and of leisure.  The Project then moves to empirical research about the backgrounds, attitudes, behaviors, initiatives and accomplishments of extraordinary pre-career or post-career adults (both sets may be properly understood as “at leisure”).  The ultimate aim of the Project is to develop and deliver a platform of research and collaborative learning and other resources to highly motivated, visionary at-leisure individuals seeking to contribute and to flourish by engaging in meaningful and virtuous activities.



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