Would you believe me if I told you that working American adults have, on average, over five hours of leisure time per day? It’s true: The data comes straight from a 2019 report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Many studies have shown that leisure time can lower stress and depression and improve your quality of life, so it’s something worth making time for. But if you have well below that average of five free hours a day, don’t worry. The important thing is to be intentional about getting leisure time.
Why? Because you need to strike a balance between too much or too little, it’s important to have a healthy attitude about it and recognize that some leisure activities are better than others.
There’s a happy medium you have to reach.
Sometimes you need a lazy Saturday morning to recuperate after a long week, but have you ever felt worse after lounging around in your pajamas for hours? There’s an important balance to strike between too much leisure time and not enough.
The title of a recent study puts it succinctly: “Having Too Little or Too Much Time Is Linked to Lower Subjective Well-Being.” Free time and wellbeing were positively linked until about two hours of free time, the researchers found, but that positive correlation began to decline after five. (You can read the study in the September 2021 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Processes and Individual Differences.)
Consider how much time you spend on leisure. Do you spend enough to feel rested and energetic? Or do you spend so much that it’s actually draining? When you schedule your leisure time, be realistic about how much you need so that you go back to work feeling ready.
Leisure time backfires if you view it as wasteful.
Is leisure a waste of time? If you think so, that might just become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“There is plenty of research which suggests that leisure has mental health benefits and that it can make us more productive and less stressed,” said Selin Malkoc, an expert in how consumers spend their time. “But we find that if people start to believe that leisure is wasteful, they may end up being more depressed and more stressed.”
If you thrive on productivity and the thought of taking time for leisure stresses you out, adding “Relax” to your to-do list might be just what you need! That way, you get the benefits of leisure while still feeling the satisfaction of checking tasks off of your list.
Some leisure activities are better than others.
Think back to the last time you spent a weekend at home: Between things like laundry and grabbing snacks, what did you do? If you spent that time staring at the TV or your phone, you may not have felt very refreshed when you went back to your chores. Believe it or not, doing activities that feel a bit more like work is a great way to rest from your day job!
“Other kinds of work — be it exercise, a creative hobby, hands-on parenting, or volunteering — will do more to preserve your zest for Monday’s challenges than complete vegetation or working through the weekend,” said productivity expert Laura Vanderkam in her e-book “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend.”
Watching your favorite TV show can be a great way to unwind, but if you want to be ready for Monday, be sure to balance it out with leisure activities that will really fill your tank.
Be sure to strike a balance between too much and too little free time, remember that leisure time is good for you and prioritize activities that add to your energy in the long run. By scheduling leisure time, you’ll find yourself better able to tackle your most important tasks.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.