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      5 min read

      Leisure Activities and Mental Health: Is It All a Waste of Time?

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      “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege,” said Henry Ford after switching from six-day, 48-hour factory work weeks to the five-day, 40-hour weeks we know today. Oddly, even today, many consider leisure to be a waste of time.

      Leisure Leads to Better Mental Health, Work Productivity

      To be fair, Mr. Ford’s motives weren’t entirely pure. Yes, his workers appreciated the additional day off. But for the Ford Motor Company, more leisure time meant more worker loyalty, more time for them to purchase consumer products (including cars) and, Ford believed, his workers would be far more productive working a shorter week.

      He was right in each instance, even if his motives were driven by profit.

      Nearly 100 years since Ford helped set the standard for five-day work weeks, some companies are now testing the waters with four-day work weeks. The idea behind it is similar to Ford’s: More leisure time means greater employee satisfaction and productivity at work.

      Still, there are those who want less leisure time, not more. Why? Because, they believe, increasing productivity at work s the ultimate goal, and leisure time is wasteful and unproductive.

      The problem, according to an Ohio State University study, is that the people who most strongly agree with this belief not only enjoy leisure time less but also report poorer mental health outcomes.

      “There is plenty of research which suggests that leisure has mental health benefits and that it can make us more productive and less stressed,” says Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at OSU’s college of business. “But we find that if people start to believe that leisure is wasteful, they may end up being more depressed and more stressed.”

      This raises the question: How can people who are “all business” be persuaded to enjoy (or at least engage in) leisure activities? The answer: Make fun activities part of a larger goal, and not a goal unto itself.

      “If leisure can be framed as having some kind of productive goal, that helps people who think leisure is wasteful get some of the same benefits,” says Rebecca Reczek, co-author of the study and professor of marketing at Ohio State.

      The OSU study was published online on Aug. 21, 2021 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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      Shining Examples of Why Leisure Time is Important for Mental Health

      "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is a proverb made famous in the classic 1980 horror film, The Shining. What it infers, of course, is that a lack of a balanced work environment without work and relaxation renders a person dull and stunted from a holistic standpoint.

      The OSU study arrives at much the same conclusion, consistently finding not only that more leisure time is associated with better emotional, psychological, and social mental health but that lack of leisure is associated with poor mental health.

      For example, consider the 199 college students who were asked to do the following:

      • Rate how much they enjoy a variety of leisure activities
      • Assess their level of happiness, depression, anxiety and stress
      • Assess how much they agreed or disagreed with five statements about leisure being wasteful, such as “Time spent on leisure activities is often wasted time.”

      Results showed that the more the participants believed leisure to be wasteful, the less they enjoyed leisure activities, regardless of whether the leisure activity was active (exercising), passive (watching TV), social (hanging out with friends), or solitary (meditating). And the more they believed leisure to be wasteful, the lower their levels of happiness and the higher their levels of depression, anxiety and stress.

      A similar study in 2019 asked 302 online participants to rate how much they enjoyed their Halloween experience, whether it was something purely recreational (like going to a party) or something that served a larger goal (like taking the kids trick-or-treating.)

      Not surprisingly, the results found that those who believed leisure to be wasteful found little enjoyment in “fun” activities like parties.

      “But those who participated in fun activities that fulfilled responsibilities, like trick or treating with your kids, didn’t see such a reduction in how much they enjoyed their Halloween,” said study co-author Gabriela Tonietto, assistant professor of marketing at the Rutgers Business School.

      The negative view of leisure, however, is not just an American issue. One study that compared people in the United States, India and France found that the French – consistent with their cultural stereotype –were less likely than those in the U.S. and India to believe leisure was wasteful. But for those in France who did disdain leisure, the bad effects were the same.

      “We live in a global society and there are people everywhere that hear the same messages about how important it is to be busy and productive,” says Reczek. “And once you believe that, and internalize the message that leisure is a waste, our results suggest you’re going to be more depressed and less happy, no matter where you live.”

      Solution: Connect Leisure Activities to Work Goals

      The researchers were struck by how the negative views of leisure affected enjoyment of anything fun, no matter the situation or how short the leisure activity was.

      In one study, some college student participants read articles that touted leisure as a way to manage stress and increase energy, then were asked to take a break and watch a short, funny cat video.

      “These are students who are coming into the lab to answer surveys, which can be boring,” says Malkoc. “In the middle of that we give them a funny video to watch, which you would expect would be a nice break – and even then, some participants didn’t enjoy it as much. They had no way to use the time more productively. We were giving them a break from other, more boring activities. And still, those who believe leisure is wasteful didn’t think watching the videos was as fun as others did.”

      The lesson learned is that it isn’t easy to change people’s beliefs about the value of leisure activities and mental health. So, a different approach may be needed, the researchers concluded. For those who believe leisure is wasteful, “it may be helpful to think about the productive ways that individual leisure activities can serve their long-term goals,” says Tonietto.

      In other words, mental health is important and that managing your time and connecting each recreational activity to something you want to accomplish, she says.

      “Find ways to make fun activities part of a larger goal in your life,” adds Malkoc. “Think about how it is productive, instrumental and useful.”

      Make InSync's Time-Saving EHR a Productive Part of Your Software Solution

      schedule a demo with insync healthcare solutionsThe goal of leisure time and activities, of course, isn’t just to be productive. It’s to enjoy yourself while improving your mental health. Sharing in that objective is InSync Healthcare Solutions, a leader in mental health EHR software that is designed to save you and your practice valuable time by eliminating costly inefficiencies. Developed specifically for behavioral health practices, the system includes everything from group scheduling and group notes to telehealth, e-Prescribing, eMAR, and custom forms.

      For a closer look at how our interoperable, mobile-friendly and configurable software system can increase efficiencies and workflows in your mental health practice, schedule a demo now with one of our experts. We're happy to answer questions and explain how we can tailor our system to meet your needs while saving you time and money.


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