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Published September 03, 2010, 12:00 AM

Good use of leisure time makes workdays easier

I just wanted to drop you a quick note and thank you for the article about work and leisure. I can identify with the husband, and although I find myself exhibiting the same behavior, I’m not sure how to move from the “endless series of chores” to finding out how to relax and enjoy. Any suggestions?

By: Val Farmer, INFORUM

I just wanted to drop you a quick note and thank you for the article about work and leisure. I can identify with the husband, and although I find myself exhibiting the same behavior, I’m not sure how to move from the “endless series of chores” to finding out how to relax and enjoy. Any suggestions? – reader from Missouri

Enjoying leisure is as important in life as work, love, spirituality, health, friendship and family. Leisure offers us change of pace, relaxation, renewed energy, healthy detachment, social bonding, learning opportunities, wonderful memories and a larger perspective. By using leisure time well, we can be more productive and satisfied with our work.

Here is some excellent advice on leisure I obtained from psychologists Peter Wish of Sarasota, Fla.; Howard Tinsley, an emeritus professor from Southern Illinois University who now lives near Seattle; and Karen Shanor of Washington, D.C.

What makes leisure different from work?

Tinsley cites four main differences.

- The freedom to choose an activity is important. When we do something out of obligation or duty, then it becomes work. The more freely an activity is chosen, the more it feels like leisure. What makes retirement special is that activities and goals are primarily by choice. Fortunate people who work at jobs they thoroughly enjoy find work to be refreshing and enjoyable.

- Leisure requires an optimal degree of novelty. The activity we choose can’t be too routine, nor can it be too new or frightening. When we try something new or go somewhere different, it should stretch us but still be within our comfort zone.

Not having enough to do violates the principle of optimal arousal. Boredom is worse than being too busy.

- Leisure activities are ends in themselves. The process of doing something is more important than the result. Someone who is producing crafts for a flea market for the pleasure of making the craft is engaging in leisure. If making money, engaging in a demanding production schedule or other motives take over, then it becomes work and not leisure.

- Leisure requires a commitment to the experience. Leisure isn’t something you do to kill time. It is something you plan for, anticipate and protect because it is special and valuable.

Transitions to leisure. For work-oriented people, a gradual transition to leisure is better than an abrupt change. People prepare for retirement by cultivating leisure all their life. They explore different interests and learn about what gives them energy or enjoyment. This means being open to new adventures, learning new things and being curious about life.

A habit of regular vacations and trying new activities prepares them for the day when they have more time available. They go from something they enjoy – work – to other things they enjoy – leisure.

Wish offers this advice for workaholics who have trouble enjoying leisure: Take your work to the beach. Then take a business-related book to the beach and finally take a novel to the beach. At least you are on the beach and can ease into the experience. Take small vacations instead of big ones and blend in leisure and relaxation in small doses.

Shanor emphasizes the wisdom to compartmentalize and shift from work to leisure on a daily basis. Taking your work home with you blurs the difference and crowds leisure out of your life.

A common mistake in retirement is going from full-time work to full-time leisure. There is too much time to fill.

A part-time job or doing volunteer work gives a good mixture of work and play. That is a way to make a good transition. Even our leisure has to take into account our need to feel useful, productive and to have a sense of purpose.

Couples and leisure time. Husbands’ and wives’ expectations about leisure can be quite different. Successful vacations require planning and discussion. Both partners’ needs have to be taken into account. Even when couples have different interests, through compromise and coordination, they can find mutually satisfying activities that meet both their needs.

Couples need to be good at entertaining themselves and having their own set of rewarding activities besides the ones they do together.

Quick tips on enjoying leisure:

- Explore your interests. Learn about yourself. Start early. Find a creative hobby that is compelling and fun. Work the task and not the clock.

- Work hard and play hard. Let your unfinished work wait for you.

- Plan fun and relaxation. Go to new places. Try new things. Get off the beaten track.

- Be flexible and open to new experiences. Go with the flow. Cultivate a childlike wonder or curiosity for the world.

- Get out in nature. See marvels of this Earth and be renewed by them. Go on a camping trip where your internal clock gets set according to hunger pangs, sleep and by sunrises and sunsets.

- Give yourself time – enough time to meet and get to know people. Be social and outgoing. Meeting people and enjoying them is a part of successful leisure.

- Plan a weekend away with no time constraints or schedules to keep. Take breaks on holidays, evening and weekends. Don’t let work intrude.

It is time to get serious about leisure – even if you have to work at it.


Val Farmer is a clinical psychologist.

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