Leisure Activities

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Merely because an activity is not absolutely necessary for survival does not mean that it is unimportant to one's sense of well-being. Time spent away from the demands of work or duty, or from the exercise of vital functions, is not always wasted or valueless. Leisure activities, pursued either inside or outside the home, may be just as essential to happiness as anything else that people do. Reading, listening to music, watching television, parlor games, and engaging in exercise and various hobbies frequently occur in the confines of one's living quarters. However, many leisure activities—jogging, field sports, attending the theater and restaurants—and other spectator or participant activities take place outside the home.

Leisure activities are desirable for a number of reasons. In addition to being a means of expressing one's personal interests and associating with people who have similar interests, leisure may help people to cope with stress, improve their physical and mental functioning, and generally contribute to positive feelings about themselves.

The degree to which play and leisure are pursued varies with personality, age, health, interest, ability, financial resources, transportation, and socio-cultural factors, Because of their personality traits, energy level, concern with keeping fit and healthy, or simply searching for an interesting and meaningful lifestyle, some people spend as much time as they can in the pursuit of leisure activities.

In general, young adults participate in more leisure activities than middle-aged and older adults, and for longer periods of time. One indicator of the relationship of age to participation in leisure activities is seen in the decline in the percentage of income after taxes that is spent on entertainment, from about 6% by adults under age 25 to around 5% in middle age, and to under 4% in older adulthood (unpublished data, U.S. Department of Labor).

In middle age, the active-leisure orientation of young adults typically begins to give way to the more passive leisure style of old age. Rather than engaging in vigorous exercise and sports activities, middle-aged adults are more likely to become involved in clubs and other organizations and spend more time just "hanging out" with other people and enjoying social, cultural, travel, and organizational activities. These relatively passive pursuits become even more common in later life, and the rate of participation in active sports declines to an estimated 10% among people over age 65 (Bammell & Bammell, 1985). In some instances, it is the portent of embarrassment that causes older adults to avoid the playing field; they feel they will not be welcome and will fail in their attempts to do well.

Although most older adults restrict their leisure activities to fishing, shuffleboard, pool, golf, and gardening, some go in for strenuous sports such as tennis and skiing. Furthermore, the kinds of physical activities preferred by older adults are related to gender: Older men tend to participate more than women in outdoor recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, attendance

My Life 11-1

Leisurely Work

I have always believed that the pursuit of leisure is one of the noblest ambitions of humanity. By "leisure," I don't mean to imply that one should play or rest all the time. Still, an occasional nap or frolic when things become tedious or tense certainly never hurt anyone.

Perhaps being able to relax completely is therapeutic, but I find it difficult to do. Even when I am supposed to be relaxing, I am usually thinking about something or other. Many of my best ideas and most reasonable solutions to problems have occurred when I was presumably resting or engaged in some other nonstrenuous pastime. However, I have found it wise to reexamine these cerebral outputs when I am in a more attentive and purposeful state of mind. What appears to be reasonable and ingenious when I am resting or playing often turns out to he fanciful and illogical when subjected to clearer scrutiny. This is particularly true when the thoughts are generated during deep sleep. I have been told that I occasionally lecture and even ask and answer questions in my sleep, hut I sincerely doubt that these nocturnal mutterings make much sense.

When I was a boy and my sister and I went to a concert or some other public performance, she always took a book along with her. Then, if she found the performance uninteresting, she would open her book and begin reading. Although I was never quite as avid a reader as my sister, I never hesitated to drift off into constructive reverie under the same circumstances.

Now that I am an "older adult" who spends most of his time at home, I find that I am more productive than I ever was when gainfully employed. Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that I don't consider what I do now as work in the sense of labor. And when I become weary of what I am doing, I simply take a break and do something else. To me, work, like beauty, is a matter of perception. If I view what I am doing as work, it becomes an onerous chore. But if I think of it as a kind of game that I can stop playing at any time, I have a greater sense of enjoyment and usually accomplish more as well. When I am merely relaxing but still fairly attentive, or even doing something more active such as playing golf, walking the dog, driving the car, cooking, cleaning, or mowing the lawn, creative thoughts usually come more rapidly.

One thing I know for certain is that I can get too close to a problem or some other task and concentrate on it too hard. Then it is unenjoyable, more tension-provoking, or, in a word, more like work. The key for me seems to lie in not attempting to separate work and leisure. Therefore, I always try to work at a leisurely pace and to remain an interested participant in my leisure activities.

at spectator sport exhibitions, and traveling, whereas greater numbers of women prefer cultural and home-based activities (Lawton, Moss, & Fulcomer, 1986-1987). The extent to which people participate in outdoor activities and the kinds of activities in which they engage also vary with geographical area. There are more pleasant days in the Sunbelt than in the North, and adults of all ages take advantage of them. In fact, the enjoyment of outdoor leisure activities year-round is what attracts many people to the Sunbelt states. In addition, available coparticipants and areas and times set aside for leisure activities affect the degree of participation. It is noteworthy that older adults who live in retirement housing have higher levels of participation in leisure activities than those who live in dispersed housing (Moss & Lawton, 1982). It may also be the case that retirement communities are more appealing to people who enjoy participating in leisure activities.

Both health, which is more likely to decline in later life, and lack of money and transportation limit participation in action-oriented activities. For this reason, the most common physical activities engaged in by older men and women are walking, gardening, travel or camping, and outings. Many older adults also enjoy bingo and other games of chance, and gambling casinos throughout the United States count older adults, and women in particular, among their most loyal customers. Slot machines and video poker are especially popular not only among the elderly but also in all adult age groups. I have often observed an elderly woman playing two or three slot machines simultaneously for hours on end, defying anyone to interfere with her pleasure. However, most leisure activities engaged in by older Americans are solitary and are pursued in the home rather outside. As a group, older men and women also spend more time than young and middle-aged adults watching television (6 hours per week on average) and in reading, writing, and other solitary, sedentary, at-home activities.

It appears, however, that age differences in leisure activities are as much a reflection of cohort (generational) differences as they are of aging per se. Certainly the extent to which middle-aged and older adults participate in leisure activities is a lifelong habit pattern. People who were quite active and involved in sports or other nonwork pursuits during their youth tend to remain that way during the years of middle and older adulthood (McAuley, 1992; McAuley, Lox, & Duncan, 1993). Those who participated in a greater range of activities when they were younger usually have a greater number of role options in later life and hence a greater likelihood of making a successful adjustment to old age. Thus, although the leisure activities of older adults differ in some respects from those of younger adults, the differences are probably due as much to upbringing and cultural differences between generations as they are to chronological age. It is quite possible that, rather than spending their retirement years playing shuffleboard or checkers, or digging in the garden, the next generation of older adults will devote more time to swimming, jogging, playing musical instruments, and engaging in educational or other self-improvement pastimes of the sort that interest today's young and middle-aged adults. Many older adults indicate that they would like to have had more education and developed their mental abilities, but relatively few take advantage of opportunities for doing so in later life (DeGenova, 1992).

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