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The undervaluation of leisure time

Nowadays, time is seen as a strict unit of measurement that has to be optimized at all times. “Time is money”. Now think back about the days when you were a kid. When you had the space to wander around your neighborhood, take different routes to school, climb over fences, to simply lose track of time. This loose and casual view on time is something we desperately need to get back to according to Alan Lightman, professor at MIT. “The damage the lack of leisure time does might be more subtle than the damage of smoking, but in the end it might be just as bad.” although Lightman.

The benefits of leisure time

For many years researchers have pointed to leisure time as something that benefits our health. Enjoying some time off leads to higher self-esteem, provides a sense of balance, leads to a more increased mood, and the experience of more positive emotions. It’s also related to lower cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate. Besides, a number of studies prove that creativity among youngsters has declined since the 90’s, parallel to the rise of the internet.

“The greatest scientific discoveries are being made when scientists are, in-between their busy work schedules, loafing around in the garden or under the shower. Even one’s sense of identity, knowing who you are and what you stand for, depends on silent reflection”, according to Alan Ligtman.

Viewing leisure as a waste of time

Even though science proves the advantages, leisure time is often seen as unproductive, unuseful and even selfish in today’s society. In our busy lives, many feel they should engage in activities that are purposeful, which leads to feelings of guilt when they are engaging in activities that don’t have a direct productive outcome. A new study finds that this devaluation of leisure time may not be good for our health. People who felt that leisure activities were a waste of time had higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress than those who valued leisure time. And even when they did engage in leisure activities, they were less able to enjoy and had hard times to come to rest. They therefore didn’t experience the pro’s of it. 



The right balance between leisure time and work

So leisure time is important, but in order to experience the advantages it’s important to look at the time you spent on leisure activities. A study showed that well-being rises with the amount of free time up to about two hours a day, but it begins to drop again after exceeding five hours. Too much time off is associated with lower subjective well being due to a lacking sense of productivity and purpose. So where some people instantly devalue leisure time because of these reasons, this seems to be the case for the majority of people after about five hours of free time a day.

At TrendsActive we’ve been researching topics on mental wellbeing and work-life balance for years. Especially Generation X struggles to find the right balance between working time and leisure time. Alongside their role as parents – and their personal goals and career – Generation X is also taking care of their aging parents and maintaining friendships. Being engaged in all walks of life, while staying socially active, is an ambitious goal and often stands in their way to engage in leisure activities. 

Brands that offer their employees time to unplug could be of real relevance to them, especially now the boundaries between work and life have collapsed during the pandemic and many struggle to find the right balance now they’re returning to the office.