Bite-Sized Philosophy

Alan Watts On The Lost Art Of Play

How The Distinction We Draw Between Work And Play Makes Us Miserable

R. C. Abbott
4 min readJul 16, 2021


Screen shot from Ingmar Bergman’s film The Passion of Anna. Black and white close up of a woman’s face. She seems to be in despair. The subtitle says: I didn’t think that life would amount to such daily suffering.
Photo credit: CriterionBabe. The Passion of Anna 1969, Ingmar Bergman

In one of Alan Watts’ classic essays, Work As Play, he draws our attention to a common philosophical error: misunderstanding the very nature of work and play. He describes our sense of play or having fun as something that does not produce a useful result:

We are delighted by it because it’s not useful. It doesn’t really achieve anything that we would call purposive work. It is simply what we call play.

The Separation Of Work And Play

He then goes on to explore our insistence on keeping the work we do separate from play.

But in our culture we make an extremely rigid division between work and play. You are supposed to work in order to earn enough money to give you sufficient leisure time for something entirely different called having fun or play.

This is a most ridiculous division. Everything that…