Leisure and Balance – Why Leisure Isn’t Working: Speaking of Balance, Renewal and Motivation

By Barry Maher

Did you know that there’s an Academy of Leisure Sciences? (And, no, they don’t meet in a bowling alley.) According to the Academy, we’re losing the skills we need to get the most out of our time off. We spend too much time with passive entertainment, TV, videos, movies, activities that provide immediate gratification but no challenge.

“You could argue that understimulation provokes anxiety,” says Dr. Geoffrey Godbey, professor of leisure studies at Penn State. When I mentioned Dr. Godbey’s title at a recent workshop, someone wanted to know if there was a Chair of Leisure Studies at Penn State. And if so, if it was a Lazy-Boy.

Cheap humor aside, research suggests that activities requiring higher levels of physical and intellectual energy yield higher satisfaction. Which means that you might feel like just watching the tube when you get home from work, but you’ll probably get more out of playing with the kids, or learning the bassoon, or building a model railroad.

The average American spends a third of his or her free time watching TV. Socializing and reading are a very distant second and third. These same people report that they’d like to see more of their friends and they’d like to read more, but they just don’t have the time.

There’s even a theory that we tend to regard the characters on our favorite TV shows as our friends. And that too many of these “friends” are too happy and too affluent, increasing the dissatisfaction we feel with our own lives. I’m not sure if watching shows about poor, unhappy people would make us feel any better—though that might explain the popularity of the Jerry Springer Show.

Interestingly, research indicates that the longer a person watches television, the less he or she enjoys it, but the more difficult it becomes to turn it off.

Tactic: Try using your leisure time to complement your job, to round out your life with elements that might otherwise be missing.

If you’re a brain surgeon and have to spend all day in the strictest mental concentration, you might find rejuvenation in a strenuous physical workout or even in something as mindless as washing the car. On the other hand, if you work in a car wash, exhausting your body and boring the hell out of your mind, try taking up a hobby that requires intense concentration—though perhaps not brain surgery.

“I work alone,” a magazine writer says. “I often feel isolated. My only hobby was long distance running, which made things worse. I would have taken up group sex if I wasn’t so much of a hypochondriac, but I finally settled on joining a tennis club. You meet almost as many people and the locker rooms are cleaner.”

A salesman I know has a daughter with a birth defect. He thought he could help fill his glass by aiding the charity that had done so much for his family and for others in the same situation.

“I figured my selling skills made me the perfect fundraiser,” he said. “But after hearing no after no all day long, getting turned down by potential donors in the evening was just too much. So I switched to the distribution end of the charity. I’m not asking, I’m giving. Everyone’s thrilled to talk to me—and that’s not always the case during the day, believe me.” Now he can hardly wait to get started in the evening. It’s enhanced his life, his attitude and his selling career.

If leisure time is as precious as gold, maybe we should try treating it that way.

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