‘Leisure guilt’ crimps holiday season; art of relaxing lost in fast-paced society
The promise of a lazy Sunday afternoon may beckon. Perhaps a little vacation is tucked away in the holiday madness ahead.
Should we celebrate — or run for our lives? Downtime has gotten complicated, indeed.
“Leisure guilt” is upon us, said Raymond Folen, an Argosy University psychologist who has determined that Americans have trouble surrendering themselves to a little rest and relaxation. It makes us anxious. Granted, the 39 million people who battled their way down the highway or through the airport to some distant Thanksgiving destination may have felt anxious last week. Those who must wrangle a turkey dinner for 20 are entitled to fret, and there’s always Christmas-shopping angst.
Add leisure time to the stress list.
“Some people may avoid — or at the very least intensely dislike — vacation, because taking the time off makes them feel bad or worthless,” Mr. Folen said. “Often, these individuals were raised by parents who instilled in them the notion that a good child is a productive child.”
They also could be leery about leaving their job unattended in uncertain times.
“Leisure guilt is not a new phe- nomenon,” Mr. Folen explained.
In the past, virtuous workers routinely toted reports and office correspondence home with them on weekends and vacations, he said. Enter e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, pagers, cell phones and wireless Internet, and the siren call of the office is avail- able to the worker anywhere, at any time.
“We often have a strong tendency to check in with the office, to see how things are going. Workers justify this as conscientious, but, in fact, it may be the result of fear and anxiety about job security,” Mr. Folen said.
Go ahead. Take some time off. Even an afternoon of loafing — a four-hour block of time — is enough to reinvigorate most us, he added, noting that such leisure should be taken without remorse.
“A vacation might even allow the brain to grow some new dendrites — branchlike elements of brain cells that tend to break off under chronic stress,” Mr. Folen observed.
Meanwhile, the nation’s leisure landscape presents a changing picture, according to an annual Harris poll, which has plumbed our collective play habits over the past three decades. We have fewer hours of leisure time — 20 hours a week in 2007, compared with 26 hours in 1973.
We are easy to please these days: The top activities are reading, followed by watching TV and spending time with family. We’re using our computers more and entertaining our friends and going to the movies less. Attending church or church-related activities is up, along with visits to the gym, walking, golfing, dancing, camping, playing with pets, swimming and team sports. In general, we’re getting outside more. Eating out, crafts and painting also have attracted more interest.
On the decline? We’re not shopping, sewing, renting movies, hunting, skiing, woodworking or simply “relaxing” as much any more, the poll found.
The rate of some activities hasn’t changed at all. Our inclination to travel, play music or cards, cook, hike, run, write, boat, play tennis or garden has remained steady for several years.
The telephone poll of 1,052 adults was conducted Oct. 16-23.
Of course, truth is often in the eye of the statistician. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 Statistical Abstract, dining out is our favorite leisure activity, followed by entertaining at home, reading, barbecuing and going online. The least popular were playing backgammon, joining a book club and ceramics.