The Importance of Active Leisure

Old men playing chess

My apologies in advance if this feels like an anti-television screed littered with broad generalizations.  -Seth

Leisure : freedom provided by the cessation of activities; especially : time free from work or duties Merriam-Webster

“The finest amusements are the most pointless ones.” -Jacques Chardonne

“Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never” -Benjamin Franklin

Imagine you just received several million dollars. Your first thought is ‘I’m going to relax and do nothing. Maybe you buy a bungalow and hire a small staff to cater to your whims.  You can sit on the beach, drink cocktails, and watch the tide to your heart’s content. After a week, though, something doesn’t feel right. You know it’s not bad fish. You can easily afford the best fish.

All those hours of relaxation and doing nothing…at first it seemed like a dream come true. Now, though, you’re ready to throw your beach chair into the sea, just to see something different.

What’s the problem? What happened? Your mind wants some action. Sitting on your ass just isn’t natural.

After last week’s article on Flow, I began thinking about the times and places where people find Flow. Besides work, people were most likely to report experiencing Flow while doing activities they enjoy. If Flow is one key to happiness, why are so many people unhappy and dissatisfied?

I think many underestimate just how important their leisure time time is. As hard-working people,  it might seem strange and self-indulgent to take play time so seriously.

Remember that leisure is not laziness! We all need time to unwind, but that time needs to be well-spent on engaging yet ‘pointless’ activities and useless skills.

Why is Active Leisure Important?

In my unscientific, biased, and totally subjective opinion, well-spent leisure time makes life more fun. It may even prevent freak outs, burn outs, and homicidal rampages.

Active Leisure also helps people:

  • Find Flow in activities they love
  • Have more energy and enthusiasm for their work
  • Give their mind a chance to wander and recharge
  • Have something fun to look forward to
  • Live richer lives
  • Discover new  interests
  • Meet new people
  • Increase divergent thinking

What’s the Problem?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most Americans have about 5 hours of leisure time per day. The world is an interesting place with activities and hobbies for every taste. The problem is many people have trouble finding interesting ways to fill their time.

The most common leisure activity is watching television. That same BLS study also reports that Americans spend half their leisure  time watching television. Rather than being a harmless, relaxing activity, television watching can actually lead to heart disease. The same applies for any activity that involves sitting for long periods of time (bloggers beware).

If heart disease weren’t bad enough, researchers at the University of Maryland found that unhappy people watch more television, while happy people spend more time reading and socializing. This doesn’t necessarily mean tv causes people to become unhappy; rather, maybe happier people are motivated to do things besides watch television.

For others, when they find themselves with free time they could use to pursue  leisure activity, they instead choose to work more.  The thinking is something like this: ‘if I sacrifice other areas of life for a little while, I’ll build my business to the point where I’ll eventually have free time.’

Planning for an ill-defined ‘easy period’ is a particularly subversive kind of masochism, because a person may never even reach this point. Why? They either burn out or keep coming up with tasks they ‘must’ do.

This kind of work and thinking creates a grey area for your brain, like you’re not working but you sort of are. In this state, you’re more likely to be treading water than having great ideas. You’re always on.

Hard work is important and obsession can be a wonderful thing, but like a convict, sometimes you just have to escape.

What’s the Solution?

  • Schedule time to for serious leisure activity. The time needn’t be great, a couple hours a few times a week is a good start
  • Value your leisure time and relinquish it only with great care. Remember the definition of leisure includes freedom from work and duty.
  • Find something that really grabs your attention and do it. It needn’t be important, productive, or useful. Useless skills are fun to develop.
  • Some recommend fixed-schedule productivity, but this doesn’t work so well for me.
  • Seek out people with similar interests. Or, to learn something new, seek out people you have nothing in common with.
  • Reduce time spent watching television . This should be obvious by now.
  • Remember that active leisure needn’t be expensive. You don’t always need new gear to get into something.

One more thing: Leisure time vs. Spare time

Leisure time or free time, active or otherwise, is the time where you’re not working…at all. In fact, you are vigorously avoiding all forms of ‘work’ or other industrious activity, unless you are working on some project as a leisure activity. Nothing wrong with that; some days I can’t tell whether writing is work or leisure. Plenty of activities fall into this blended category.

Spare time, however, means short breaks in your work or during your working day. These are times when you’re shifting between tasks,  waiting for a phone call, whatever. If you can make the make the most of your spare time, you can maximize your leisure time. This means not checking your email ten times a day or getting sucked into a couple hours of web surfing. I mention these only because they are my leisure-time vampires.

Over to You:

  • How do you spend your leisure time?
  • For you self-employed people, do you find it hard to allow yourself leisure time?
  • Do you have categories that blend work and leisure?

Photo Credit: swanksalot

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