Category Archives: Constraints to Leisure

“I’m so busy”: A Symbol of Status that Threatens our Leisure

I recently came across an news article sharing research that people who are busy are perceived as having higher social status. This was not particularly surprising and yet, as someone who studies leisure, I found this quite disappointing.

busy no leisure

In searching out the research, I found the news article to be a bit deceptive. In one of the studies supporting the research, participants were given a couple of conditions. “In one condition [it] read, ‘Jeff works long hours and his calendar is always full.’ In contrast, participants in the other condition [it] read, ‘Jeff does not work and has a leisurely lifestyle'” (Bellezza, Paharia, & Keinan, 2016b, p. 3). After reading these two scenarios, participants rated Jeff’s social status. Working long hours got the higher social status. I found the comparison used a bit problematic. I think there may be more to our perceptions of the difference between working long hours and not working at all. Is Jeff rich, retired, or unemployed? Without knowing why Jeff is leading a leisurely lifestyle, it is difficult to know how study participants decided to give the busy Jeff higher social status.

In another study supporting the authors’ research (Bellezza, Paharia, & Keinan, 2016b), individuals wearing a Bluetooth device were seen as having higher status than individuals wearing headphones (which could represent someone listening to music). In the third study, the authors had participants read two sets of Facebook posts. In on set, the statuses included statements such as “Oh, I have been working non-stop all week!” and “Quick 10 minute lunch”. In the other set of Facebook posts, the statements were “I haven’t worked much this week, had lots of free time” and “Enjoying a long lunch break.” The individual working non-stop and took a quick lunch was assigned a higher status than the other individual.

What contributes to busy being more highly valued?

One of the reasons that busyness may be linked to status is because of the development of  “knowledge-intensive economies” (Bellezza, Paharia, & Keinan, 2016a) in which human capital characteristics such as competence and ambition are highly valued and in high demand. In this kind of economy, telling others that we are busy – that we are working long hours with little leisure time – helps create a perception that our human capital characteristics are in high demand and that we are a scare resource. Scarcity contributes to perceived value. So, apparently you increase your economic value, and therefore your status, when you are able to cram more work into a day than someone else (Racco, 2017; Wasik, 2013) or are willing to sacrifice leisure or sleep for work.

It is interesting to me that being busy is not seen as someone having taken on too many tasks/roles or as a lack of efficiency in completing tasks/carrying out roles. To me, “busy” could just as easily signal a miscalculation of one’s capacity or be a sign that someone has not organized his/her workload in a way that is effective. But, it seems that we may not think critically about what might be behind someone’s “busyness”. There also seems to be a clear undervaluing of leisure and its important role in our life.

Outcomes of busyness

Busyness may be a way to climb the social ladder, but it also something most of us choose. It is a self-inflicted disease that contributes to anxiety, heartburn, fatigue, weight gain, and insomnia (Kovan, 2013; Richards, 2015). Another consequence of busyness disease (BD) is not having time for more authentic, vulnerable relationships (Richards, 2015) which, arguably, are more worthwhile and important than working more hours (assuming enough income is earned through fewer hours to meet needs).

Certainly, there are times when we are necessarily busy. Life is just like that sometimes. However, as Kovan (2013) points out, sometimes people cause themselves more harm than good by voluntarily taking on extra, unnecessary activities that make their lives more busy. She argues that, for some, these choices are made to boost the ego and to avoid feelings of emptiness.

One of the most significant outcomes of being busy, from my perspective, is that we loose out on leisure. We miss opportunities to engage in things we are interested in, to explore new interests, to meet new people who share our passions, and to experience joy and greater life satisfaction.

What is needed to resist busy?

As I read these articles, I reflected on what is required for someone to resist aspiring to a busy and overworked lifestyle and viewing it as a status symbol.

Valuing of leisure. Leisure needs to be valued. Because I’m fairly leisure literate, I understand the value that leisure has in my life and I suspect others who prioritize leisure hold similar values. I am aware of how I benefit from the leisure activities I enjoy and I appreciate potential benefits of activities that I could try or enjoy. That doesn’t mean that people who value leisure are not busy or don’t experience periods when they are “crazy busy,” but when leisure is valued, you are more likely to make choices that support you being able to engage in it.

Taking responsibility for how time is spent. At times when I have had the opportunity to work with people who were looking to make changes to their individual or family leisure, I have found that people resist the idea that they are responsible for their leisure. Rather than claiming responsibility for choosing a demanding career, choosing to put children in multiple activities that place incredible demands on time, or choosing to bake 500 cookies at Christmas-time for a cookie exchange, people often blame others. “You have to have your kids in everything these days.” Actually, you do not. “I have to work long hours if I want to get promoted.” Maybe, but acknowledge that you want to get promoted and what that decision means for your leisure time. It is difficult to resist “busy” or to say “no” to things that will make you unnecessarily busy if you cannot acknowledge that you have control over what you do with your time.

Becoming clear on priorities. It is important to be clear on your priorities and the order in which they come. If your partner, family, or friends are important, how is time spent with them? Is the time and quality of that time spent on your top priorities disproportionate to the extra time spent on things that are lower priorities (e.g., work)? Priorities change and it is important to recognize when and how they change.

Avoid the ‘busy’ language. If you are interested in helping resist “busy” becoming something people aspire to or are impressed by, I encourage you not to spread it. I have recently noticed that when students email me for help or stop by my office, they often start with, “I know you are busy…”. As I’ve noticed this pattern, I’ve reflected on what I’ve said or done to make my students feel that their request or presence might be viewed as a disruption. Or, is it just an atmosphere we create at my university (or in society) where everyone is “busy”? I try to reassure students that they are not a bother and that I have time for them. I also try to catch myself when I hear myself say that “I’m busy,” and try to follow it with, “It’s my own fault.” I often underestimate how much work things will be (my processes are sometimes slow). I try to learn from my experiences, but I often find this challenging as I get presented with new opportunities and have no idea what will truly be involved or how long the tasks will take me. And sometimes, I just make bad choices about my workload and things are temporarily quite frantic – a consequence of my own doing. Avoiding “busy” is a work in progress, but I have consistently worked at not being impressed by either my own busyness or the busyness of others.

Closing Thought

If “busy” is indeed something that impresses people and is assigned higher social status by others in society, our leisure and indeed our happiness and life satisfaction is threatened. Perhaps there is a need to emphasize the research that demonstrates how leisure benefits human capital (e.g., people are less stressed, more productive, and happier) and that being “busy” is not really something to which we should be aspiring.


Bellezza, S., Paharia, N., & Keinan, A. (2016a). Conspicuous consumption of time: When busyness and lack of leisure time become a status symbol. Journal of Consumer Research,

Bellezza, S., Paharia, N., & Keinan, A. (2016b). Why Americans are so impressed by busyness. Harvard Business Review.

Koven, S. (2013). Busy is the new sick. Retrieved from

Racco, M. (2017, March 30). “The cult of busyness: How being busy became a status symbol,” Global News.

Richards, K. (2015). The disease of ‘busyness’. Nursing Economics, 33(2), 117-119.

Wasik, John F. (2013, February 12), “The Biggest Financial Asset in Your Portfolio Is You,” New York Times, F7.
















Bullying: A Serious Constraint to Children’s Play

I picked up my local newspaper yesterday morning and was shocked to see a headline, “Bullied boy fears going outside”. Just two days ago, I’d written a post about how engaging children in physical activity isn’t always “easy” and cited bullying as one of the issues children face that can interfere with their participation in physical activity. And here we have just one example. There is a child in my community who may be getting the message to “get outside” and “play outside” and “be active,” and it is clear he’s interested in being outside and playing, but he’s being verbally bullied by other kids in his neighbourhood.


I have a particular interest in this issue because some of my recent research has focused on bullying in recreation and sport settings (Shannon, 2013). Bullying has been studied most within the context of schools, but occurs in out-of-school programs and in various recreation facilities as well (Deakin, 2006; Endresen & Olweus, 2005; Nansel, Overpeck, Haynie, Ruan, & Scheidt, 2003). In fact, almost one third of bullying experiences take place beyond the school setting (Fekkes, Pijpers, & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2005). Unfortunately, very little is known about bullying in these settings and there are no established “best practices” for preventing it from happening or managing it when it does occur. In this particular case, the police have told the mother that there is nothing she can do and “basically told me if I didn’t like it to relocate”. I have to question whether this is either an effective or compassionate way to deal with any issue in a community. Perhaps the police do not clearly understand the negative impact that this form of bullying could have on this child.

Consequences of Bullying

Youth who are victimized frequently report high levels of depression, social anxiety, and loneliness (Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2003); thoughts of suicide (Rigby, 1996); lower self-esteem (Craig, 1998); and feelings of unhappiness (Fekkes et al., 2004). More bullied youth than non-bullied youth report having headaches, sleep problems, and abdominal pain (Fekkes et al., 2004).

Beyond these physical and emotional effects, bullying can be a barrier to participation in recreation and sport programs. In addition to affecting the child’s physical health, avoiding participation in recreational activities may further isolate and stigmatize children. And, if bullying is experienced in recreation settings or is perceived to exist (e.g., the child perceives a threat), the youth who could benefit most from the various outcomes associated with recreation participation (e.g., skill development, enhanced self-esteem, and friendship development) might not be reached. This consequence is of great concern as leisure interests and skills developed during childhood significantly influence leisure interests and participation throughout adulthood (Shannon & Shaw, 2008). Avoiding participation in recreation and sport activities during childhood (including simple activities like riding a bike in one’s neighbourhood) could drastically influence an individual’s leisure interests and skills in adulthood an, in turn, their health.

Tips for Locating Safe Places for Children to Engage in Recreation and Sport

Most parents want to be confident that their children’s physical and mental health will not be compromised while they are participating in recreation and sport activities. While it is more difficult to deal with bullying in one’s neighbourhood (especially if police or the bullies’ parents are not willing to intervene), my research (Shannon, 2013) found that there were some common characteristics of recreation and sport environments that were committed to creating safe environments for youth to engage in recreation. The culture of the organization and the attention they gave to particular program elements seemed to be key. Here are four questions you can ask to gain a better sense of whether an organization is committed to creating and maintaining a safe or “bully-free” environment.

  1. Ask administrators bout the values/attitudes of their organization related to bullying. If they say, “It doesn’t happen here,” be concerned. In my research, some administrators said bullying wasn’t an issue in their programs or facility, but their front line staff – the ones working directly with the youth day-in-day-out – said bullying happened and sometimes often. Those organizations who fail to acknowledge bullying and to develop clear values around creating a safe environment for children are likely not prepared to prevent or manage bullying incidents.
  2. Ask about staff training. Are staff trained to create a climate where youth respect each other? Are they trained in how to prevent bullying, recognize it, and manage it when it happens? Training doesn’t mean that bullying won’t occur, but there is a much better chance that staff will be able to avoid creating situations where bullying might occur
  3. Ask about policies and procedures for addressing bullying when it occurs. If an organization has codes of conduct or specific policies (e.g., call to parents if a child reports bullying), you can feel much more comfortable that they are committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for your child.
  4. Ask about supervision. Most organizations I conducted research with discussed times when the supervisor to participation ratio was small as a time when a lot more bullying took place. If there are only 2 adults supervising 40 kids at lunch time at camp, it will be more difficult for them to monitor interactions and notice more subtle forms of bullying behaviours. Organizations who were really concerned about creating safe environments, worked to ensure that during unstructured play times or “down times,” there was sufficient supervision and that this time wasn’t simply viewed as a “break” for the youth leaders.

Supporting Youth During their Free-Time

I am distressed by the lack of support this mother and child are receiving locally related to this issue. We argue the importance of children “getting outside” and we talk about “bringing back play”. We have a child who wants to get outside and play and a mother who values this form of activity for her child, but neither appear to have the support to do ensure the child feels safe. It is also bothersome to think that for the kids who are tormenting this child, this is what they are choosing to do with their free-time in the summer. Rather than inviting the child to join in; rather than finding other ways to amuse themselves, they are choosing to harass another child. Perhaps these bullies need some support. Perhaps they are working to feel powerful in their neighbourhood because they are powerless elsewhere. Perhaps they are trying to meet particular needs (e.g., relieve boredom) that they don’t know how to satisfy in a more socially acceptable way.

My hope is that a youth-serving recreation or sport organization has seen the story and offers the child who has been victimized a safe place to play this summer – invites him to the local Zig Zag Playground Program, for example. No child should be stuck inside for the summer afraid to go outside to enjoy the summer weather. But we should not ignore the bullies either. I don’t know their story, but do wonder what is going on with them and how could they be supported in using their leisure time in a way that doesn’t involve harming others? Surely there are other ways to enjoy summer vacation than tormenting others.

When I think about the bullies, I think about the role of leisure education for youth and the importance of helping youth develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that contribute to positive leisure functioning. This can involve helping youth develop skills (including relationship, problem-solving, and communication skills), identify interests and opportunities to participate in activities that are of interest, identify the various needs youth have and how leisure activities and experiences (socially acceptable ones) can meet those needs. Unfortunately, too few youth are encouraged or given the chance to think about their leisure or the relationship between leisure and other aspects of their lives (or the lives of others in this case).


Craig, W. M. (1998). The relationship among bullying, victimization, depression, anxiety, and aggression in elementary school children. Personality & Individual Differences, 24, 123-130.

Deakin, J. (2006). Dangerous people, dangerous places: The nature and location of young people’s victimisation and fear. Children & Society, 20, 376-390.

Endresen, I. M., & Olweus, D. (2005). Participation in power sports and antisocial involvement in preadolescent and adolescent boys. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(5), 468–478.

Fekkes, M., Pijpers, F. I. M., & Verloove-VanHorick, S. P. (2004). Bullying behavior and associations with psychosomatic complaints and depression in victims. Journal of Pediatrics, 144, 17-22.

Juvonen, J., Graham, S., & Schuster, M. A. (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics, 112, 1231–1237.

Nansel, T.R., Overpeck, M.D., Haynie, D.L., Ruan W.J., & Scheidt, P.C. (2003). Relationships between bullying and violence among US youth. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 157, 348-353.

Rigby, K. (1996). Bullying in schools and what to do about it. Melbourne, Australia: Council for Educational Research.

Shannon, C.S. (2013). Bullying in recreation and sport settings: Exploring risk factors, prevention efforts, and intervention strategies. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 31(1), 15-33.

Shannon, C.S., & Shaw, S.M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30(1), 1-16.

Leisure Makeover Monday: Negotiating and Navigating Constraints to Leisure

leisure time makeover seven

This is the last post in the “makeover” series. If you have followed along, you have hopefully given some thought to various aspects of your leisure – what constitutes a satisfying experience for you, what needs are met through your leisure pursuits, what leisure skills you personally have, and even the things that get in the way of you accessing leisure or enjoying leisure experiences you are able to access.

If you completed the identify constraints exercise offered in the last post, you already have an idea of what the most common factors are that stop you from accessing or enjoying leisure. The next step is to work at finding ways to negotiate or overcome these constraints. There are a few questions we can ask ourselves to help in negotiating constraints: Is the activity or experience meaningful enough to you to bother with the negotiating process – do the benefits outweigh the costs? Are the barriers possible to overcome? Can I modify aspects of my life in order to access this leisure activity? Can I modify aspects of the activity or my participation in the activity in order to gain access or improve my enjoyment?

Meaningfulness of the Leisure Pursuit or Experience. A first step to negotiating a constraint involves deciding whether the activity we can’t seem to access – whether because of time or lack of transportation or limited finances – is meaningful enough to move forward in negotiating. For example, you may feel you do not have time to take after dinner walks. You first must decide whether walking is an important activity to you – do the benefits outweigh the costs that may be associated with overcoming the constraints. You may have ideas about how you could access this leisure (e.g., skip doing dishes; delegate these tasks; go later in the evening; wake up early and walk in the morning), but you need to consider whether the benefits you will receive (e.g., physical activity, reduced stress, time for self) are worth the costs (e.g., messy kitchen, walking later when it is dark, giving up an hour of sleep in the morning).

Constraint Can Be Overcome? Sometimes one of the things that keeps constraints from being overcome is that we don’t believe it is possible to overcome them. If you do not believe that lack of time to pursue things you enjoy can be overcome, you will not move any further in the constraints negotiation process. If you feel that lack of skill to participate in an activity is not something you can overcome, again, you won’t go further in the negotiation process. This means we need to believe that a constraint can be overcome and there needs to be a desire to overcome it before we can begin to consider or implement negotiation strategies.

Skills and Knowledge. I have already discussed that in some cases lack of knowledge or lack of skill are constraints to participation. If you can indeed link either of these factors to why you are not participating in a particular activity, refer back to these posts for suggestions on what you can do related to these constraints.

Modify Aspects of Life – Depending on the nature of the constraint (e.g., time), it may be possible to make changes to aspects of your life that would allow you to overcome the constraint.

  • Getting up earlier may buy you an extra hour to participate in an activity (e.g., go for a run).
  • Rather than sitting at your desk or working through lunch, you may want to take this time to participate in a leisure activity you enjoy (e.g., knitting, shopping, walking, socializing with friends, reading).
  • Consider how delegating obligatory tasks (e.g., cooking; housework; taking children to activities) to other family members could allow you to access leisure you enjoy (e.g., either more time for leisure, or more freedom to choose to do what you wish).
  • Consider where you are spending your money and whether making changes in where money goes may allow you to have more money available for leisure pursuits. For some people, it is not possible to reallocate their funds or to cut costs, but for some people, this is something worth visiting.

Modify Participation – Changing aspects of the way in which you participate can help you to successfully negotiate some of the constraints you face and allow for participation in some form.

  • You may not be able to get the 45 minute cycle on the trails that you were hoping for, but you may be able to bike around your neighborhood with your children. The physical activity experience may not be as long as you would prefer. It may not be just you and your bike and you may not be able to speed along as fast as you like, but there may be other elements that meet your needs (i.e., being outside, being active).
  • Some women who are fearful of running alone at night will take a dog with them when they run or only run when they are with a partner or group of people.
  • If body image issues stop you from going to the gym, working out at home may be an option. Again, research on women’s leisure has found some who are self conscious opt for women’s only facilities or program as a way of negotiating this constraint.
  • When finances are limited, it may be important to modify when you participate. For example, renting movies rather than going to the theater or going to the theater on cheap night and forgoing the concession stand snacks. Although purchasing a book allows you immediate gratification, using your library and placing holds on books you’re interested in may be a way to read new novels or biographies that you’re interested in. Many communities offer days when museums are cheaper or when attending an art gallery is free. You may not be as free to participate exactly when you wish, but by being flexible and modifying your participation, you may still have opportunities to participate in activities you enjoy.

Not Everything Can Be Negotiated at an Individual Level. Unfortunately, not all constraints to leisure can be modified by individual cognitive or behavioral processes. For example, if there are no swimming facilities in your community, modifying aspects of your life or participation to overcome that constraint may not (likely will not) be effective. It may also be difficult to negotiate social norms related to gender role expectations without the help of a partner who, for example, is willing to share equally in household and child rearing responsibilities. Therefore, it is important to recognize which constraints to leisure you experience are factors you can respond to individually, which constraints you need support in negotiating (e.g., from your partner, friends), and which constraints may require a more collective effort (e.g., lobbying for facilities or recreation opportunities).

Leisure Makeoever Monday: Identifying Constraints

leisure time makeover week six

The last area that many people need to consider when working on making changes to their leisure is the constraints they experience. Constraints (or sometimes referred to as barriers) are those structural, interpersonal, and intrapersonal factors that can influence one’s leisure preferences and/or one’s ability to follow through on what they are intending to do for leisure or during available leisure time.

Structural constraints are those things that interfere in your leisure after your preferences are formed. For example, you may prefer to go skiing on a particular weekend in December, but the weather has not cooperated and produced enough snow on the hills (weather). You may want to sign up for a yoga class, but the times offered at your local studio do not fit within your schedule (timing of activities).

Interpersonal constraints are those factors that arise as a result of interpersonal relationships; they involve social factors. For example, you may want to try ballroom dancing, but your husband/partner does not want to go (lack of leisure partner). You’d like to go to a movie tonight, but cannot locate a sitter (lack of support for leisure). We may have social roles that create constraints. For example, when you take your children to the beach, supervising them in your role as a parent may mean that the experience does not have the elements of “leisure” for you (e.g., sense of freedom).

Finally, intrapersonal constraints are individualized factors that influence leisure preferences. These factors can sometimes be a result of socialization (e.g., perceptions that ballet is for girls and football is for boys – perceived appropriateness of activities; women socialized to look after the needs of others before their own – known as the “ethic of care”). Other times, intrapersonal constraints are related to our abilities – for example, we may perceive that we lack the skills to join a bowling league. Or, our health (e.g., illness, injury) may stop us from participating in activities we enjoy or forming preferences for particular activities. Finally, some people do not feel entitled to participate in leisure. For example, if you subscribe to the philosophy that you “earn” your leisure, if you find yourself unemployed, you may not feel entitled to spend money on leisure pursuits. Some parents do not feel they are entitled to take time for themselves if it means their kids will need to go to a baby sitter.

Below is a table that outlines many of the constraints that leisure researchers have discovered as common. Some of the constraints are more common for particular segments of the population. Ethic of care, for example, is primarily a constraint women experience.


Identifying Constraints

Since you worked on clarifying your needs and priorities, you have a better sense of what you want to do during your available leisure time. In other posts, I have discussed specific factors that can influence our leisure preferences or stop us from pursuing things we’re interested in (e.g., skill level; knowledge, experiences). There may, however, be other factors that affect your ability to pursue things in which you are interested. Take time to consider what is getting in the way of what it is that you enjoy doing.

I’ve created a fairly simple exercise that will get you thinking about and monitoring the constraints you face related to your leisure. In some cases, you may discover that you engage in self-talk that serves to constrain you (e.g., “I’m too tired”). Monitoring what gets in the way of you having satisfying leisure experiences is an important step to finding ways to “negotiate” those constraints and having those leisure experiences you’ve identified that will meet your needs.

Next week, I will discuss strategies for overcoming constraints.

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