Are You Engaging in Enough Leisure Activity?

Believe it or not, it is a vital ingredient for a healthy life.

Posted Jan 31, 2019

Overworked, over-scheduled, and under constant bombardment of stimulation by all of our digital devices and pressure to do something (e.g., answer emails, texts, voicemails), we have become conditioned to view decompressing and doing nothing as a waste of time. In the not so distant past, people spent a lazy afternoon napping or puttering about the house or “chewing the fat” with a neighbor as a guiltless activity.

Often, leisure is viewed as something to be reserved for retirement when there are much more limited obligations and more financial security. Yet, leisure is critical across the age-span; it is not just for retirees. As sleep recharges the body, time spent decompressing from constant demands energizes our psyche. Leisure can reduce stress as well as encourage socialization and the development of relationships.

What is leisure, exactly? The term “leisure” can have many meanings. Some define it as the time not spent at work; that is non-market labor (Engemann & Owyang, 2007). Stebbens, a prominent researcher in leisure, defines it as “uncoerced, contextually framed activity engaged in during free time, which people want to do and, using their abilities and resources, actually do in either a satisfying or a fulfilling way (or both)” (2012, p. 4). Deriving pleasure and other positive reinforcement is not limited to leisure activities. For some, chores such as cooking, cleaning, or quiet time paying bills is a leisure activity. What is leisure to one may be work or obligations to another. For some individuals, spending their “free time” participating in activities such as entertainment, socializing, hobbies, or sports may not be pleasurable. The definition of a leisure activity is unique to one’s likes and dislikes.

No matter the description of what constitutes “leisure,” the importance that the activities be positive is critical in its effect on people. Leisure can enhance healing, personal and social change, and well-being. Iwasaki, Messina, and Hopper (2018) write that leisure can lead to meaningful life engagement by promoting “(a) a joyful life, (b) a connected life, (c) a discovered life, (d) a composed life, and (e) an empowered life” (p. 30). Thus, leisure activities should: be pleasurable; contribute to an individual’s social, cultural, and spiritual connections; encourage learning more about oneself regarding personal characteristics and attributes; assist in stabilizing and controlling one’s life, and motivate one to feel free and strong.

Leisure promotes positive psychological states. If that is so, why do people not attribute as much importance and time to it as they do to other activities? For example, work is perceived generally as a highly important activity and one where it would likely take precedence over leisure. The perceived prominence of work and obligations may be a function of culture. For example, the United States is often thought to be more “work focused” in comparison to some European countries. Other issues, such as finances, age, or gender may influence how much importance one assigns to leisure. Kuykendall, Tay, and Ng (2015) reviewed factors that related to whether or not one prioritized leisure. Leisure activities are forfeited when there are financial pressures or family demands (caregiving or childcare). Interestingly, working men engaged in more leisure activities than working women, possibly related to feeling less guilt and more satisfaction from leisure; or perhaps, because working women may also take on a larger share of familial obligations, that may limit time for leisure.

Leisure encourages people to experience freedom, which often leads to feelings of control, competence, and improved self-esteem. Engaging in pleasurable activities stimulate the production of neurochemicals that in turn improve physical health. Other positive benefits from leisure include:

  • Stimulating motivation
  • Contributing toward living a meaningful and well-rounded life
  • Helping one cope with and adjust to adverse events
  • “Recharging” by giving those who are tired or emotionally spent the fortitude to go on
  • Permitting people to reward themselves and reinforce a perception of self-importance (i.e., you are important enough to indulge yourself in pleasurable activity)

Therefore, rather than subordinate leisure activity—or even worse, malign it—leisure should be adopted as a critical ingredient in everyone’s psychological and physical diet. Clearly, when and how much one spends doing it has to be evaluated individually. Its reparative, protective, and additive qualities cannot be underestimated. Although many other activities may take priority over leisure at certain stages in one’s life, even a little time spent in leisure can have positive effects. Leisure is one of life’s nutritious elements that not only keeps us going—it makes our lives all the better.


Engemann, K. M., & Owyang, M. T. (2007, January). Working hard or hardly working? The evolution of leisure in the United States. The Regional Economist. Retrieved from

Iwasaki, Y., Messina, E., S., & Hopper, T. (2018). The role of leisure in meaning-making and engagement with life. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13, 29-35. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1374443

Kuykendall, L., Tay, L., & Ng, V. (2015). Leisure engagement and subjective well-being: A meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 141, 364–403.

Stebbins, R. A. (2012). The idea of leisure: First principles. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.