The Power of Leisure: How to Wisely Spend Your Free Time

How we spend our leisure and free time can have a big impact on our lives, though we often overlook just how important these things are.

Leisure is best defined as, “any time not occupied by paid or unpaid work, including personal chores and obligations.” They are usually “preferred activities pursued during free time for their own sake, fun, entertainment, or self-improvement”

A recent study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, reviewed the many ways leisure and free time have shown to improve happiness and subjective well-being.

Psychologists discovered 5 main ways leisure contributes to our happiness and well-being.

  • Detachment-Recovery – Leisure can provide a way to relax and recover after working. This helps to avoid fatigue and burnout, which can often hurt both happiness and productivity. Working 24/7 isn’t actually the best way to be productive, you need to balance between knowing when to push yourself forward vs. knowing when to take a step back and relax. Leisure allows us take time off from our major responsibilities for a little while.
  • Autonomy – Leisure can provide a sense of choice and autonomy. Often, our work and obligations are dictated by others, but pursuing hobbies on our free time gives us more control over our lives. Leisure is one of the few areas in our lives that is often self-directed and self-determined. We often require that sense of autonomy to relieve stress and feel good about ourselves.
  • Mastery – Leisure can provide a sense of accomplishment. Many hobbies, even if we enjoy doing them, require some type of effort and learning to get good at (even if it’s just doing different puzzles or playing video game). Working toward personal goals and making progress in anything can be beneficial to both your happiness and self-esteem.
  • Meaning – Leisure can provide a sense of meaning and purpose. Many activities hold personal significance to us and our lives. For example, many hobbies may be tied to a religion or spiritual tradition, or have been meaningful to you during certain times in your life. Maybe you like to play the guitar because your Dad taught you how to play, or you like to play baseball because it reminds you of your childhood.
  • Affiliation – Leisure can provide us with social interaction and affiliation. Many hobbies can be solitary or social. But the social ones (especially when they are shared with the right people), can be a rich source of community and sense of belonging, whether it’s joining a sports league, or a book club, or a wine-tasting group, or whatever. Often times we need leisure where we spend time with like-minded people.

Ultimately, all of these factors play a role in how effective your leisure time is.

These are also good guidelines to consider to make sure all of your “leisure needs” are being met. For example, if you mostly spend your free time only watching TV, that may help with the “detachment-recovery” aspect of leisure, but is it fulfilling your “mastery” needs, or “meaning” needs, or “affiliation” needs? Probably not.

It’s best to choose a range of leisure activities that fulfill these needs for you.

Maybe some days you want to just sit at home and play guitar by yourself, but other nights it’s better to go out to a restaurant or bar with friends. We have many needs to fulfill to make us happy, so it’s good to have balance of different interests and hobbies.

When you think about your own leisure activities, do you feel like all of these needs are being fulfilled? If not, maybe it’s a good idea to introduce some new activities and hobbies into your leisure time.

I understand that many feel they are too busy to find leisure time. We all have responsibilities and obligations. But it’s really important to make time in your day for yourself if you want to be as happy and healthy as possible.

Make sure your leisure needs are being fulfilled.

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