Leisure is a life domain that plays a significant role in an individual’s overall happiness. Therefore, it only seems appropriate that on International Day of Happiness (#happinessday) to present some of the research on the relationship between leisure and happiness. Most simply, happiness is defined as feeling good, enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained (Layard, 2005). In the last decade, there has been a proliferation of research related to happiness (e.g., positive psychology movement). The popularity of books such as The Happiness Project and Happier at Home along with the introduction of the magazine Live Happy demonstrate a growth in a desire to explore concepts related to happiness and/or find, increase, or maintaining individual happiness.
1. Choose your leisure activities carefully. The type of activity you participate in matters – different leisure activities have differing impacts on happiness. Wang and Wong (2011a) found six activities – shopping, reading books, attending cultural events, getting together with relatives, listening to music, and attending sporting events – were associated with higher levels of happiness. They also found that more time spent on the internet decreased the probability of an individual feeling “very happy” and increased the likelihood that an individual feeling “not at all happy”. Other research has found that participation in social activities is associated positively with happiness (Csikszentmihalyi & Hunter, 2003) while watching TV generally relates negatively to overall happiness (Bruni & Stanca, 2008). Stebbins (2014) singles out serious leisure (those fulfilling activities in which one has persevered, developed specialized knowledge and skill, enjoyed a leisure career, and experienced special benefits such as a sense of belonging) as offering opportunities for more enduring or long-term happiness than “casual” forms of leisure for which are primarily pursued for the short-term pleasure they bring.
2. Focus on quality leisure not quantity. Since so many of feel time pressed in today’s busy world, this next research finding may be promising. While you might like to have more time to engage in leisure, at least one study has found that the quantity of leisure is not as important as other aspects of leisure such as the satisfaction one derives from leisure activities and the meaning of leisure time (e.g., time with family; time to connect with others). Individuals who feel that their leisure activities facilitate the opportunity to be themselves – to be authentic – and help them to strengthen relationships with others tend to report greater happiness (Wang & Wong, 2011b). Therefore, focusing the ensuring one has quality leisure experiences may be more important to one’s happiness than trying to secure more leisure time.
3. Take vacation time and anticipate the vacation. In a recent study, happy people reported taking more holiday trips in a one-year time frame. Holiday trips boost happiness – at least in the short term (Nawijn & Veenhoven, 2011). While on vacation, people are happier in then they are in their everyday lives and the greatest increase in happiness tends to be during the trip. However, two weeks after returning, that happiness boost disappears suggesting the effect on happiness is relatively short-term. Also important is the idea of anticipation. Those who more strongly anticipated their holiday/vacation (e.g., thought about it, researched, planned, prepared) had higher levels of happiness than those who anticipated to a lesser degree (Hagger, 2009).
4. Leave work out of your leisure. When you are having leisure time – taking the dog for a walk, enjoying dinner with a friend, watching a movie – avoid thinking about work. Research suggests that individuals who frequently think about work in their free time tend to be less happy than others (Wang & Wong, 2011b).
5. Money can buy happiness. It does seem, however, that happiness depends on what you are spending money on (DeLeire & Kalil, 2010). Researchers have found that consuming leisure or material goods that facilitate leisure (e.g., movie tickets, gym memberships, trips and vacations, sports events and performing arts, materials related to hobbies, athletic equipment) is positively related to happiness. Consuming other material goods such as cars, appliances, computers, clothing, and televisions is unrelated to happiness. The researchers believed that one of the reasons leisure consumption increased happiness was through the relational component of leisure. Engaging in some of the leisure experiences identified above affords opportunities to reduce isolation and offers opportunities for social connection through social networks.
6. Maintain your participation in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA). Your levels of LTPA can have an influence on your mood status. A recent study by Wang et al. (2012) found that a change in activity status from being inactive to being active could protect against unhappiness over time. And, a change from being active to inactive increased the odds of becoming unhappy 2 years later. The lesson from this study – get active, stay active, and build some protection against unhappiness.
These various pieces of research suggest that focusing on the leisure domain of one’s life may be a fine place to start if you are looking for ways to increase or maintain your happiness. Time for swap out television and internet time for physical activity, hobbies, and social leisure. Spending some time and money on vacation and leisure experiences like concerts or the movies might also be the way to go. And the good news is the happiness is only one of the many positive outcomes associated with taking time to participate in leisure!
Happy International Day of Happiness.
Bruni, L., & Stanca, L. (2008). Watching alone: Relational goods, television and happiness. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 65 (3), 506-528.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Hunter, J. (2003). Happiness in everyday life: The uses of experience sampling. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4(2), 185-199.
DeLeire, T., & Kalil, A. (2010). Does consumption buy happiness? Evidence from the United States. International Review of Economics, 57(2), 163-176.
Hagger, J. C. (2009). The impact of tourism experiences on post retirement life satisfaction. Adelaide, Australia: The University of Adelaide.
Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. New York: Penguin.
Nawijn, J. (2011). Determinants of daily happiness on vacation. Journal of Travel Research, 50 (5), 559-566.
Nawijn, J., & Veenhoven, R. (2011). The effect of leisure activities on life satisfaction: The importance of holiday trips. In I. Brdar (Ed.), The human pursuit of well-being: A cultural approach (pp 39-53). New York: Springer.
Stebbins, R. A. (2014). Leisure, happiness, and positive lifestyle. In S. Elkington, & S. J. Gammon (Eds.). Contemporary perspectives in leisure: Meanings, motives, and lifelong learning (pp. 28-38). New York: Routledge.
Wang, F., Orpana, H. M., Morrison, H., de Groh, M., Dai, S., & Luo, W. (2012). Long-term association between leisure-time physical activity and changes in happiness: Analysis of the prospective National Population Health Survey. American Journal of Epidemiology, 176(12), 1095-1100.
Wang, M., & Wong, M. C. S. (2011a), A Snapshot of Happiness and Leisure across Countries: Evidence from International Survey Data (May 23, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1850798
Wang, M. & Wong, M. C. S. (2011b) Leisure and happiness in the United States: Evidence from
survey data. Applied Economics Letters, 18, 1813-1816.