Leisure time is something that, as Americans, we tend to overlook the importance of. We often want to feel busy, but we don’t prioritize things we enjoy, and that gives us happiness outside of our work. For example, taking regular family vacations is an important part of your health and wellness, yet so many people report not having traveled in years.
Even spending time at home but disconnecting from your work and doing things you truly enjoy or feel passionate about are so important. There’s a science behind the value of leisure time, which we discuss more below.
What is Leisure?
It’s difficult to define in any specific sense what leisure is because it’s personal and different for everyone.
In general, there are three main elements of leisure. Leisure happens during your free time. It’s not when you’re working or taking care of household tasks and chores.
There are certain activities often included in the category of leisure, like crafts, outdoor activities, or reading. If it’s something you enjoy in and of itself, it can be considered leisure. These activities are also things that you know are leisure. Again, you’re doing whatever it is for the fun of it.
You’re pursuing what you want and spending your time in voluntary ways.
The word itself comes from old French, and it means to enjoy oneself.
Why Is it Important?
When you take time for leisure, it can help you be more creative and innovative, be a problem solver, and when you are working, be more engaged and productive. It also helps with your physical and cognitive well-being.
Your brain regions are connected to one another with complex networks of neurons. When you do something repeatedly, it changes the way your brain functions. If you’re doing something that engages you socially, is challenging to you, or that is stimulating you in any way, it requires different brain areas to connect. This can strengthen your brain as you age.
Research shows engaging in leisurely activities can have a positive impact on your motivation and focus at work, but only if it has nothing to do with your work.
Rethinking Free Time
There’s an issue that researchers often identify in people in the modern world, and especially Americans. We aren’t as busy as we think we are, at least not in terms of actual time, but we feel busy.
Americans feel like they’re working harder than ever, but they aren’t. The average hours people spend on the job not only in the U.S. but around the globe has been either steady or going down over the past four decades.
So why do we feel like we’re overwhelmed and have no time for leisure?
Researchers theorize it’s at least partially due to how fragmented our time is. We’re constantly switching between tasks and roles, and it overloads us. There’s a sense of time pressure created when you’re trying to respond to emails, make dinner, and care for kids simultaneously.
There’s not a set start and end time for our workdays anymore. Multitasking is creating huge problems and making us less efficient, regardless of the fact that we might think we’re getting more done.
According to a 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average working American adult has more than five hours of leisure time per day. That time is supposed to lower anxiety and stress, but for reasons like the ones above, it’s not.
So what’s the solution? Many experts say it lies in being intentional about your leisure time. You have to find a balance between too much and too little, and also how you spend that time.
If you want the mental and physical benefits of leisure time, you have to view it as something other than being wasteful. If you think the time is being wasted, but you have an abundance of it, then you’re going to end up more stressed and depressed. Some people thrive on productivity, and the idea of doing “nothing” can be stressful in and of itself.
The quality of your leisure time and how you spend it are important.
Are Some Activities Better Than Others?
If you spend five hours a day staring at the TV or your phone, this isn’t going to help you feel refreshed, nor is it going to spark creativity.
How do some of the most successful people spend their free time?
- Exercise is an excellent leisure activity. If you can take time to get physical activity, it will renew your spirit and help your brain feel alert and active. You can give your brain oxygen and allow the endorphins to flow. Exercising on a regular basis also helps you build discipline, and that is a skill that you can bring into the workplace. When you’re disciplined and have healthy coping mechanisms for stress, you’ll feel better overall and have an improved outlook and more confidence.
- Reading is another way successful people spend their free time. You can learn more about the world around you and expand your perspective. If you’re reading nonfiction, you may be able to even build your skillset. Reading improves your vocabulary, and that helps your communication skills.
- If you’re interested in something, why not take a class? Commit to always continue learning. You don’t have to take a class related to your job. Take something that you’ve always wanted to learn about.
- Give back to your community and revitalize your own spirit by volunteering in your free time. If you volunteer in a way that’s interesting to you, that’ll help you be more engaged in the process.
- Find a hobby. People who have hobbies they pursue have lower stress levels, and they’re better able to put their job into perspective.
Finally, use your free time to build and strengthen your relationships with the people you love and care about. Socializing and being with people who make you feel happy is going to promote your well-being.