Leisure Time or Lost Time: How Negative Beliefs About Leisure Exacerbate Mental Illnesses

Ayesha Azeem ’23

Figure 1: Leisure can be defined as time off from paid work and obligations. 

Although it is enjoyable to take breaks away from work and obligations, certain factors can undermine this enjoyment, like tracked or scheduled leisure time. Leisure provides people with a sense of control in life and can reduce the risk of depression. These benefits, however, may be less impactful in people who believe that taking time out for leisure is wasteful. Rutgers University researcher Gabriella N. Tonietto and her team investigated whether people who believe that leisure time is wasteful have decreased enjoyment during this time, even if it does not interfere with their goals. 

The first study examined the role of terminal versus instrumental motivations and initially tested the effect of believing that leisure is wasteful on enjoyment. Terminal motivations lead a person to pursue actions for personal enjoyment, like attending a party; instrumental motivations lead a person to pursue actions for practical reasons, like dropping a child off at school. The researchers asked the participants about their activities on Halloween followed by their beliefs about leisure time. The team found that for terminal leisure activities, a stronger belief in the idea that leisure is wasteful was associated with decreased enjoyment. Conversely, there was no significance in the association between beliefs about leisure and enjoyment for instrumental leisure activities. 

In the second study, the researchers further examined the relationship between beliefs about the wastefulness of leisure and enjoyment by assessing participants’ attitudes towards different leisure activities, and how personal beliefs about leisure affect mental well-being. Three pretests were given to the participants to assess their ideas of leisure activities, whether they believed these activities were terminal or instrumental, and how actively they participated in each activity. The researchers found that socializing, relaxing, watching TV and carrying out hobbies were classified as terminal leisure, whereas exercising and meditating were classified as instrumental. Additionally, negative beliefs about leisure were associated with lower levels of happiness and higher levels of depression and stress. 

The researchers concluded that the motivation behind the leisure activity determines how strongly negative beliefs about leisure will impact enjoyment. Future research can focus on implementing interventions to reduce the negative impact of believing leisure is wasteful, or on the relationship between gender or income and the effects of negative beliefs about leisure-time. Longitudinal studies may reveal more information about this phenomenon as well. 

Works Cited:

  1. G. Tonietto, et al., Viewing leisure as wasteful undermines enjoyment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 97, 1-13 (2021). doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2021.104198.
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-lying-on-black-and-red-hammock-beside-mountain-under-white-cloudy-sky-during-daytime-92870/ 

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