Think leisure is a waste? That may not bode well for your mental health

Posted on August 27, 2021

In a series of studies, researchers examined the effects of a common belief in modern society: that productivity is the ultimate goal and time’s a-wasting if you’re just having fun.

People who most strongly agreed with this belief not only enjoyed leisure less, but also reported poorer mental health outcomes, said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“There is plenty of research which suggests that leisure has mental health benefits and that it can make us more productive and less stressed,” Malkoc said.

“But we find that if people start to believe that leisure is wasteful, they may end up being more depressed and more stressed.”

One bright side: Some skeptical people could enjoy fun activities if leisure was part of a larger goal, and not an end in itself.

“If leisure can be framed as having some kind of productive goal, that helps people who think leisure is wasteful get some of the same benefits,” said study co-author Rebecca Reczek, professor of marketing at Ohio State.

The study was published online Aug. 21, 2021 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

In one study, 199 college students rated how much they enjoyed a variety of leisure activities and completed assessments that measured their levels of happiness, depression, anxiety and stress.

They were also asked how much they agreed with five statements assessing the degree to which they believed leisure is wasteful (such as “Time spent on leisure activities is often wasted time.”)

Results showed that the more the participants believed leisure to be wasteful, the less they enjoyed leisure activities.

That was true whether the leisure activity was active (exercising) or passive (watching TV), social (hanging out with friends) or solitary (meditating).

In addition, the more they thought leisure was wasteful, the lower their levels of happiness and the higher their levels of depression, anxiety and stress.


Source material from The Ohio State University