Making Good Use of Leisure

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By Dave Hood

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The only way to avoid being miserable is not to have enough leisure to wonder whether you are happy or not.” Leisure time is what a person does when not working, whether paid work, chores, or responsibilities. Leisure time is meant for relaxing, participating in pleasurable activities, pursuing goals and dreams that don’t involve work. Some people are unable or unwilling to make good use of their leisure, while others use it wisely to enjoy life, pursuing activities and interests and hobbies that provide meaning and purpose, increase happiness and well-being. Which type of person are you? Do you make good use of your leisure time or waste it? Perhaps you’d just like to make better use of your leisure.

How People Spend Their Leisure

Far too many people waste their leisure time. After a long day at work, many people spend their evenings escaping life, becoming intoxicated on booze, getting high on illegal drugs, lollygagging on the couch, watching anything that comes on television. On weekends, they live the same lifestyle.

Others sit and daydream about how life should be, and do nothing to alter their circumstances. Others feel guilty about having free time to do anything, and so they work on special projects, renovating the house, painting a bedroom, dusting the furniture, staying busy, completing some task that is work and doesn’t provide pleasure.

Some people, especially the shopaholics, spend their leisure visiting a shopping mall or high fashion boutique. They’ll purchase gadgets, clothes, shoes, accessories, other material comforts they don’t really need. Furthermore, they are often faced with credit card debt and high interest charges.

Many people use their leisure completing nonessential chores, because they don’t know how to use their leisure time in a way that will enable them to relax and feel pleasure from leisure.  If they’re not working, they feel guilty. Or they might feel that their life lacks meaning and purpose.

Most people who waste their leisure have not discovered their interests or passions. If they only took the time to discover what interests or goals they have outside of work, they’d be motivated to take steps to work on cultivating their interest and achieving pleasurable goals. Life is filled with countless fascinating experiences, such as travel, and pleasurable activities, including reading, listening to music, taking a stroll in the woods.

Those people who waste their leisure often feel burned out, stressed out, discouraged, depressed, or bored with their lives. And so, many people seek fleeting pleasures—and end up running on the “hedonic treadmill,” continually searching for new pleasure, because all pleasure dies after it is experienced. For instance, once the vacation is finished, the pleasure melts away. Once a person has an orgasm, the pleasure subsides. Once the person purchases a pair of designer blue jeans, the joy of wearing a new pair of pants dissipates—the good feeling wanes and disappears. And so, the person must find another temporary pleasure to feel good again.

Other peoples spend their leisure in activities and pursuits that add pleasure, meaning, purpose, and happiness to their lives. They join a fitness club, play baseball on a co-ed league, swing a driver off the tee on the golf course with buddies. They listen to music, such as Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2. They read a classic novel, like Catch 22 or Lolita. They attend a music concert, so they can listen to delightful music by great musicians and singers, for instance, U2. They learn to use a digital camera and compose and snap photographs of street life, or portraits, or landscape.  They play the piano or guitar or drums. They take up creative writing, and then write a novel, short stories, poetry, personal essays. They do yoga, lift weights, jog, run, and meditate. They spend time in solitude in the woods, take a bike ride on quiet streets, go fishing. They participate in a weekly game of tennis or squash or lawn bowling.  They play catch with their kids or instruct them how to slap a hockey puck with a hockey stick. They volunteer in an old age home. These people have learned how to make good use of their leisure and have experienced the benefits of leisure.

Benefits of Leisure

Perhaps you are a person who wastes your leisure, or you’d like to use it more wisely.  An awareness of the benefits of leisure might motivate you to make changes. Here are some benefits of leisure that you should consider:

  • You’ll have time to relax and recharge your energy.
  • You’ll have time to embrace your hobbies and interests and passions.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to become physically fit, which is good for your mental and physical health.
  • If you engage in hobbies and interests you enjoy, you will add meaning and a sense of purpose to your life.
  • If you make good use of your leisure time, you’ll be able to live those dreams that don’t involve work, such as becoming a writer, or a photographer, or  a painter, or whatever you dream of becoming.
  • If you involve yourself in activities or pursuits that provide “flow,” you will lose track of time and experience enjoyment. Your troubles and stresses will disappear while you are engaged in a flow activity or pursuit. Flow is also a good way to battle depression and ward off anxiety. Positive psychologists have also learned that “flow” experiences create happiness.
  • You’ll contribute to your work-life balance, which is essential for improving well-being and good health.

Making Good Use of Leisure Time

Professor, literary critic, and author William Lyon Phelps once said, “Those who decide to use leisure as a means of mental development, who love good music, good books, good pictures, good plays, good company, good conversation – what are they? They are the happiest people in the world.” A person ought to spend his or her leisure carrying out activities, interests, hobbies, as well as working on achieving  goals and dreams. The proper use of leisure adds pleasure and enjoyment to a person’s life, as well as enabling them to relax and recharge their energy after a long work week. Here are a few suggestions for making better use of leisure time:

  1. Discover your interests and hobbies. All interests and hobbies are a personal choice. Ask yourself: What do I enjoy reading? What do I like doing? What are my dreams? Then schedule time for them each week. Some people might enjoy painting, playing a musical instrument, writing in their journal. Others might enjoy playing sports, such as hockey, baseball, tennis, squash, golf.
  2. Make physical fitness part of your lifestyle. Ideally, you’ll want to work out for 30 minutes each day. Fitness has many health benefits. It will improve your strength, stamina, and flexibility. It will also reduce stress, reduce physical tension, and contribute to peace of mind. There are many ways to embrace fitness:  Join a fitness club. Take up yoga. Go for a power walk each day. Lift weights, jog, run, bike around the neighborhood. Sign up for co-ed baseball or house league hockey.  Fitness will also make you feel better, help you relax, eliminate the extra weight, give you peace of mind, improve your mental and physical health.
  3. Enroll in an interesting course, sign up for a workshop, or escape the grind to a retreat.  Schedule time for something you have an interest or passion for, something that will provide pleasure and reward, such as creative writing, photography, painting, spirituality.
  4. Study some fascinating topic on your own. Baseball. Travel. Art. History. Whatever is of interest to you. Ask yourself: What would I like to learn?
  5. Spend time relaxing on a daily basis. How you decide to relax is a personal choice. Many people unwind by listening to pop, rock, classical, or jazz on their stereo or portable music player. Others enjoy reading a good book of fiction, poetry, the newspaper, essays in a quiet place. Some people enjoy time in solitude. Others have discovered the joys of creativity, and so they write, paint, take photographs, play the guitar. Some people sit and do nothing. Others take a nap. Many people embrace meditation and yoga.
  6. Consider volunteer work. It will help you transcend your “self,” and enable you to feel that you are contributing to a cause greater than yourself. The right volunteer work will also add a sense of purpose and meaning to your life. Find some sort of volunteer work you enjoy.
  7. Explore popular culture.  There are many ways. Make time to see a good film, a movie that has received a good review. Take a walk through the art gallery and study the paintings and sculptures and installations. Attend a rock concert or symphony. Watch and listen to a stand-up comic at a comedy club.  Attend the festival for the arts. See a theatre production. Purchase tickets to cheer for your favorite hockey, baseball, foot ball team.
  8. Spend time in solitude. You might close the door and sit in a quite space in your home. You might take a stroll in the woods or go for a solitary bike ride along some quiet streets. Spending time by yourself in solitude will allow you to reflect on your life, set personal goals, remind yourself of the dreams you have, and help you unwind and relax.
  9. Schedule time for watching television. Don’t just watch any type of television. Instead focus on what you feel is pleasurable, enjoyable, informative, and important. For instance, schedule time to watch a good movie, your favorite sitcom, a sporting event, documentary, the news, and so forth. The key is to make good use of your leisure time by watching—not just any programming— but television that informs, or educates, or provides enjoyment. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your leisure time.
  10. Engage in leisure activities that create “flow.”  Begin by establishing a set of goals that feel will are interesting and bring pleasurable. Then take steps to accomplish these goals. Spend your leisure time absorbed in achieving them. They key is to find something you have a strong interest and passion for. When experiencing flow, your mind will become thoroughly absorbed in the experience. You’ll also lose all track of time. Flow is enjoyable mental state, and it contributes to well-being.

Final Thoughts

Author, Elizabeth Elliot wrote, “Work is a blessing. God has so arranged the world that work is necessary, and He gives us hands and strength to do it. The enjoyment of leisure would be nothing if we had only leisure. It is the joy of work well done that enables us to enjoy rest, just as it is the experiences of hunger and thirst that make food and drink such pleasures.”

Making good use of your leisure will enable you to experience pleasure, fend off melancholy, add meaning and purpose to your life, and improve your physical and mental health.

If you are not making good use of your leisure, you are either too busy working, not motivated because you don’t understand the benefits, or don’t know how to use your leisure time wisely.

To use leisure wisely, you must discover your interests, passions, hobbies, and dreams. Then schedule time when you’re not working for these pursuits. If you have a high pressure job that consumes much of your life or many distracting responsibilities, you’ll have to “make time.”

Why is leisure so important? According to positive psychologists, the wise use of leisure time will improve your well-being and happiness.

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About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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