The Curious Autodidact

May 15, 2008

Leisure Matters from the New York Times

Filed under: helpful hints — Honilima @ 2:19 am

May 5, 2008 Shifting Careers

Why Leisure Matters in a Busy World


A few months ago, I spoke with a Canadian economist, Linda Nazareth, about her prediction that we are entering an age governed by changes in leisure patterns. We talked then about the ways that workplaces and businesses will evolve to accommodate and capitalize on the 77 million baby boomers who will, in increasing numbers, have excess time on their hands.

Suddenly, I started hearing about other aspects of the leisure field, an area I previously knew little about. Recently, I came across the work of Alison Link, whose work with people who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated was described in a column by Samuel G. Freedman in The New York Times in 2006. Though Ms. Link works primarily with at-risk populations, she says that we can all improve our quality of life by paying more attention to leisure habits. I had a series of telephone calls and e-mail exchanges with Ms. Link, and the following is an edited version of those exchanges:

Q. How do you define leisure?

A. Believe it or not, the field of leisure studies is a big area of academic study. Leisure has many different definitions – some involving time, some relating to an activity being done, some relating to state of mind. Personally, I am most at leisure when I feel free, present and integrated. I like this definition for myself because it allows me to experience leisure at any moment, even in just a few minutes. Leisure can happen when we are in various states: artistic or creative, physical, intellectual, social, spiritual, learning new things, volunteering, active, passive, or as a spectator or participant. One can be emotionally connected and engaged or not. And we can even have leisure at work and be more productive, healthy and creative.

Q. Can you give some examples of positive uses of leisure?

A. I hesitate to be more specific because I prefer to guide people as they figure it out for themselves. I ask people to look at the things that are most fulfilling to them and that make them feel like they are at their best. So I ask questions like, “What would you like to be doing in your life you are not doing now?” or “What would you like to do better or learn more about?” It’s a process, and it’s different for each person. I would never suggest that someone take a course to get started because that might feel like work to them.

Here’s an example of a work situation: one of my clients works in television, and her life is filled with stress during her filming season. In those periods, she works six days a week and has little energy for herself, her boyfriend and others in her life. She came to me in one of those stretches, in which she was so overwhelmed that she was waking up each morning just hoping to get through the day. It was affecting both her workday and the limited time she had outside of work.

Eventually, she said, she might make a big lifestyle change. But until she could do that we worked together on how she could add small bits of leisure into her days during those intense times. We were looking for small changes, the kinds of things she could do in 10 or 15 minutes. She created a list: she could call a friend who would make her laugh, take a walk to get coffee, sit for a few minutes in the park, even walk to and from work. Once she started to add some of these small bits of leisure to her life, she felt more free and happy at work, and she saw changes in her life outside of work, especially in how she interacted with others.

Q. Why should we care about our relationship to leisure?

A. Too often, leisure time that is not used in a satisfying way turns into idle time, or is used to do a single thing to excess (like overeating, or getting into family quarrels). It can even turn negative, which is what happens often in the cases substance use, delinquency and criminal activity. Also, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t define ourselves by our work? It should be just as valid to define ourselves by our leisure.

Q. A lot of your academic and field work focuses on at-risk, incarcerated and post-incarcerated populations. Why is leisure so significant for these populations?

A. Many people in at-risk populations have a lot of stress, pressures, risk-taking behavior, boredom and/or idle time. They may have, or perceive that they have, limited options or resources.

There is an opportunity to use leisure in a negative way while living on the street but also while in prison. Approximately 95 percent of people who are incarcerated in the United States are released and return to society at some point. This transition from incarceration to a life free from both crime and incarceration is a challenge for the more than 10 million people in the United States returning to society each year. Out of the more than 650,000 people returning from prison annually into the community, two-thirds are rearrested and half are reincarcerated. This affects not only these individuals’ lives but also those of their families, children, communities and society.

So equipping people with the ability to make more positive use of their leisure time while in prison and also once released is a holistic approach that helps empower the whole person, reduce the negative use of leisure and contribute to reducing recidivism.

Q. What does all this have to do with those of us whose lives have nothing to do with correctional facilities or addiction?

A. Whenever I conduct workshops with any group, I ask people how free they feel and to rate themselves on a scale of 0 to 100. The responses are usually about the same whether I am talking to people in a correctional facility or at a workplace. I have learned firsthand that some people feel free while behind bars (and use their time in a positive way), yet others feel “locked up” while living in society.

One thing I learned from working with incarcerated populations is that having a good understanding of leisure and implementing it can be a coping skill, especially through transitions. Prison re-entry to society is a major transition in one’s life. However, we all experience transitions whether big or small. Sometimes we have control of them and other times we don’t.

Waking up every day is a new transition. Every minute is a transition. Taking a new job, retiring, going to school, finishing school, relocating, recovering from an illness, bereavement, having a new baby are just some of the transitions we encounter and there is an unknown associated with them. A satisfying leisure life can help an individual take control of part of that unknown. It also gives the opportunity for choice, which is often limited in other aspects of our lives, like during our work.

Improving our relationship with leisure can also reduce job stress, improve work-related skills, increase tolerance and understanding and enhance decision-making

Q. So how do you explain all those people who don’t feel free in their lives?

A. Few of us really think about or plan for leisure. We think we should just go with the flow, but too often we end up feeling stressed, overwhelmed and unfulfilled. We need to plan for leisure – perhaps by doing one small thing every day, identifying long- and short-term leisure goals, putting enjoyable activities on the calendar – like we do other aspects of life. But before people start moving up leisure on the priority list, they need to appreciate and recognize the value and benefits of leisure, even when they have constraints (that may be internal or external). We all have obligations and other constraints that inhibit us from engaging in leisure that range from guilt to time or financial constraints. Yet the personal benefits and collective benefits short term and long term are worthwhile.

Q. So what happens when an individual goes for an extended period of time without leisure?

A. You tell me. Have you ever been burned out, depressed or overwhelmed, had stress manifest physically? Mind and body connect you know. And then think of the effect on not only you but how it affects others.


1 Comment »

  1. great article thanks it was very interesting

    Comment by mysticmiss — May 19, 2008 @ 7:04 pm | Reply

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