Blog #66 – Leisure and well-being – Part 2
By Dr. Mark Barry
In our last post, we focused on leisure time and how it may be more important in terms of individual well-being than sometimes assumed in the general population. While some stereotypes associate leisure with self-indulgent pursuits, we highlighted research evidence showing that the key to the relationship between leisure and well-being may be what we do with that time. In other words, there is more to leisure than sprawling out on a couch watching television or pitching a tent in your local pub for the weekend, and the choices we make around that time can be important. When we consciously choose to spend our leisure/free time on activities that demand a little more from us but chime with our interests and sense of purpose, that can lead to measurable benefits for our sense of well-being.
We noted last time that findings such as these bring to mind bedrock ideas in positive psychology such as the Three Happy Lives and the set-point theory of happiness, with their emphases on flow states, nurturing meaning and purpose, and the importance of volitional activity (i.e., how we choose to spend our free time) for overall well-being.
Tapping into similar terrain, Yoshitaka Iwasaki, Emily S. Messina, and Tristan Hopper published a paper in The Journal of Positive Psychology earlier this year in which they propose – arising from their analysis of existing positive psychology and leisure literature – that leisure can play a key part in the process of meaning-making and engagement with life. These two concepts have, in turn, been linked with individual flourishing, and so, the logic of the paper is that some leisure activities tap into meaning-making and engagement, and when these are enhanced that can lead to increased levels of individual well-being.
They define leisure for their purposes as “a freely chosen, meaningful activity, which can actively engage people to gain a variety of benefits”, with those benefits including healing and liberation, well-being, and positive personal and social changes.
In making the case for the role leisure plays in meaningful engagement with life, the authors identify five key factors it promotes: a joyful life, a connected life, a discovered life, a composed life, and an empowered life.
To deal with each in turn:
Joyful life: Here, the authors are referring to lives filled with positive emotions, emphasising mindfulness and savouring. This, they maintain, facilitates a process whereby individuals are able to effectively reframe adversity and also to derive greater enjoyment from positive experiences.
Connected life: This refers to the tendency whereby when individuals feel connected to the world around them, then they are more likely to feel a sense of meaning and purpose in life. The authors cite existing work to the effect that meaning itself presupposes the experience of connection, in the form of interpersonal relationships across multiple spheres, including social, spiritual, and cultural.
Discovered life: The discovered life refers to a life in which an individual has identified and learned to tap into their own unique talents and characteristics. The self-discovery implied here has been identified as a key element in the process through which we ask and answer questions around purpose and meaning in life.
Composed life: The authors state that this refers to “a life that is in control, collected, and self-contained.” In free time, we have the space to tweak the pace and flow of our life towards these objectives; whereas, other aspects of our life, such as our work, may not allow us those same opportunities. The idea of the composed life also relates to overcoming negative events and is therefore said to have self-protective and self-restorative aspects.
Empowered life: As implied by the title, this refers to “a life perceived to be emancipated and strengthened” through the experience of meaning. This occurs when how people view the world assists them in the process of coping with and overcoming stress and/or trauma.
The logic put forward by the authors is that when we engage in leisure activities that allow us to tap into these five factors, then that suggests that we are using that time in ways that facilitate the sense of purpose and meaning, with that in turn likely to boost overall well-being.
Mark Barry was awarded a PhD by University College Cork in 2015 for his research into adolescent well-being. He has lectured psychology at UCC since 2013 and is also a freelance writer.