We struggle. It’s a given; relationships stumble and fail, children disappoint, finances dry up, and fears of the future haunt. We focus on the disturbing while ignoring the positive—the relationships that support, the children that succeed, finances that flourish, and futures full of promise. Life simultaneously has both—the good and bad; the bad is just more salient, forcefully demanding attention. The child with legal and drug problems frustrates demanding more mental energy than gratitude for the other child quietly and successfully moving through the challenges of life. We shouldn’t ignore real problems to enhance enjoyment. However, we shouldn’t forsake pleasure because serious problems must be solved first. We need a few leisure activities to rest our wearied souls.
Resolutions requires some attention devoted to vexing issues; from attention proceeds positive action. We can’t, however, neglect the positive; enjoying the uplifting, as well as, implementing the enjoyable. We need positive, uplifting moments for balance, recharging our souls, brightly coloring our worlds, and giving us strength to endure, and sometimes conquer, the unpleasant.
Physiological Need for Recovery
Biologically our bodies more readily respond to unfavorable input. Biological affects urge defensive responses to threats by directing attention (and energy) to danger. The reactive response conjures cognitive memories and learned explanations to find meaning to the flow of feeling.
Our survival mechanisms don’t welcome trouble with gratitude; the body responds to trouble with discomfort—not joy. Our habits of thought add or subtract from the original raw affect of experience, magnifying or reducing discomfort. This is where we construct emotion.
We don’t have to be pugilists. Life isn’t terrible and shouldn’t be dreaded. We can seek pleasurable escapes—both through the mind (enjoying accomplishments and positives) and through activity (hobbies and entertainment). Too much anxiety, too much sadness, too much anger, or too much pain overwhelms, pushing us beyond our capacity to effectively process experience; and we shut down. In psychology, this is referred to as ego depletion.
We must implement protection, placing a sentinel to guard against paralyzing emotions; when overwhelmed, we become victims, losing energy for self-management, responding to trivial events with destructive outrage or helpless depressions.
Knowing emotional limits and common triggering events, we can actively prepare for and avoid many negative-life-defining moments. We will still be challenged—not because we are weak but because we are human. We will make choices, encounter situations, and bond with people that cause pain. Emotional maturity assists with these battles; but when emotional challenges surpass our abilities, the allostatic load overwhelms and we need different tools; instead of working our way through the emotions, we can utilize healthy escapes.
Mental Health Escapes
We need mental-health escapes; momentarily freedom from the drudgery, and relief from emotional demands. Escapes must be engaging enough to provide sufficient distraction (Flow). Engaging in healthy activities recharges the soul, rejuvenating self-discipline. Consequently, leisure activities provide strength to re-engage in life. The torments momentarily lose their sting.
Not every leisure activity has equal value—simple escape isn’t the solitary goal; we still must keep on living after are break. Many destroyed lives have begun with avoidance. Distractions have positive and negative impacts; a regular trip to the local bar may sufficiently distract but also disrupt.
Healthier distractions develop living skills while we simultaneously rest our minds. Like all activities, escapes can nourish or diminish our lives. When mental-health escapes increase valuable life skills, the breaks provide both escape and nourishment—exercise, reading, hobbies or meditation can serve this dual purpose.
One study found that leisure activities were especially beneficial when others were present (2015).
Benefits of Leisure Activities
Money is part of this equation being that some of us must work harder and longer to survive. Our time crunch limits opportunities for leisure. Moreover, according to research, “time affluence is a consistent predictor of well-being, whereas material affluence is not. Time affluence is the feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful, to reflect, to engage in leisure. Time poverty is the feeling that one is constantly stressed, rushed, overworked. Behind” (Ben-Shahar, 2007).
Five Healthy Leisure Activities:
Simple exercises such as a walk or Five-Minute-Chi rejuvenates and replenishes both the mind and the body. There’s no perfect exercise program, find the one that works for you. While sweating doesn’t sound like leisure, it does provide a mental escape, and replenish the mind and body.
Find a topic of interest. Becoming an expert. Reading unveils new passions. Reading is a common trait shared by many of the world’s most successful people. Knowledge expands the experience of living.
Science has discovered a slew of benefits from this ancient practice. Modern studies confirm what Eastern religions have known for centuries—meditation is healthy. Join a group or practice alone. A few Resources to get started: Meditation for beginners, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with your Mind, and Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28 Day Program.
To gain maximum benefit, a hobby must be challenging enough to demand attention, pulling the mind away from the ordinary problems of living. If engagement isn’t sufficient, we continue to mull over worries while our hands mindlessly work. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to losing oneself in an activity as Flow (1998). Find something you love. Explore the many possibilities until you discover the right hobby for you (writing, painting, gardening, photography, politics).
See Flow State for more on this topic
Television can be mind-numbing. Thoughtlessly flipping through channels is a waste, without notable benefits. Carefully choosing what and when to watch allows television to rejuvenate. Social Media also can distract with positive or negative benefits. Social Media offers countless groups to explore. Sharing stories, thoughts, and connections, expands our learning, and multiplies resources. The Flourishing Life Society page provides a much-needed escape for me.
Any leisure activity can morph from healthy to obsession—diminishing the benefits. Many of life’s problems eventually need addressing and not consistently avoided. Obsessions—even of healthy activities—create imbalance. Because escapes are enjoyable, we may compulsively avoid real life, constantly lost in the flow of a hobby we neglect relationships, careers and health.
Proper balance must be established and continually re-evaluated (see A Life in Balance). Our strength comes from proper use of escapes to rejuvenate and then address life with more power. The constant adjusting of time keeps positive elements in our complex and dynamic lives in balance.
Find positive life building activities, insert them into your life, and enjoy the benefits of a healthy retreats.
Ben-Shahar, Tal (2007). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw Hill; 1st edition.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (Masterminds Series). Basic Books; 1st edition.
Kaimal, G., Ray, K., & Muniz, J. (2016). Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making. Art Therapy, 33(2), 74-80.
Takeda, F., Noguchi, H., Monma, T., & Tamiya, N. (2015). How Possibly Do Leisure and Social Activities Impact Mental Health of Middle-Aged Adults in Japan?: An Evidence from a National Longitudinal Survey. PLoS ONE, 10(10).