Updated: Feb 12, 2020
My earlier research focused on how leisure (personally meaningful and enjoyable pursuits) can be a resource for coping with stress and adjusting to (or living well with) ongoing health problems. I was particularly interested in ‘casual’ leisure experiences (e.g., a game of cards with friends) and why they were important to people in times of stress. Based on interviews with adults who had experienced life-altering changes in their health or relationships, my mentor Doug Kleiber and I wrote an article we called: ‘Gifts of the Ordinary.’ In it we summarized the health-related benefits that come from ‘casual’ leisure or moments of enjoyment.
These moments of enjoyment can offer self-protection by helping to reduce feelings of distress (e.g. worry) and improve mood and, in doing so, help people continue to cope with ongoing challenges.
Moments of enjoyment can also contribute to restoring or preserving a sense of self by affirming values (e.g. importance of family) or valued self-perceptions (e.g. as a caring person) in the face of stressful life changes and by providing a sense of accomplishment or control over situations where they feel control may be lacking.
The final way that these moments of enjoyment seemed to be important were for being a catalyst for growth-oriented change —in other words people seeing themselves and their lives in new ways.
From this research I have tried to encourage people to build ‘5 Minute Vacations’ into their everyday lives, especially when feeling stressed. These can be anything that you intentionally choose to do that will give you an immediate break, and help you feel less stressed and happier in the moment. Examples participants provided from a recent retirement planning workshop I facilitated include: stopping to listen to a favourite song, savouring a cup of coffee, stepping outside on your deck and appreciating the view, having a quick chat with a neighbour, and adding pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. A leading researcher in the ‘positive psychology’ area –Sonja Lyubomirsky-- makes similar arguments in her book: ‘The How of Happiness.’ she states "the ability to savour the positive experiences in your life is one of the most important ingredients to happiness" and one of the strategies to savouring is "relish ordinary experiences" and share them with friends.
Thinking about the above ideas:
What moments of enjoyment can you build into your everyday life that will give you a complete break, help reduce the stress you’re feeling and improve your mood?
What are little things you can do to make everyday obligations more enjoyable (e.g., to infuse some enjoyment into chores or to make that ‘prescribed’ light exercise more fun)?
If you want to see the actual research article we wrote, please email me and I’ll send it to you: Susan.Hutchinson@dal.ca
Hutchinson, S. & Kleiber, D. A. (2005). Gifts of the ordinary: Casual leisure's contributions to health and well-being. World Leisure Journal, 47(3), 2-16.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.