Take a break: Leisure activities have long-term benefits for your mental health

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For workaholics, leisure time can seem like a waste of time, but a recent study reveals it’s actually vital to your mental health. Researchers from Ohio State University argue that, in the long run, being productive all the time harms your mental health.

Their findings reveal that taking part in leisure activities was a long-term investment towards greater happiness and lower levels of stress and depression. However, if people viewed recreational or leisure activities as a waste of time, then it would still have detrimental effects on their mental health.

“There is plenty of research which suggests that leisure has mental health benefits and that it can make us more productive and less stressed,” says Selin Malkoc, an associate professor of marketing at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business, in a university release.

To change people’s mindsets, it may help to view leisure activities as a part of a larger goal for a successful and healthier life, which would make it seem more productive.

In one of the several studies performed by the research team, 199 college studies self-rated their level of happiness, depression, anxiety, and stress. They also answered five questions regarding their beliefs on whether leisure activities — ranging from exercising, meditating, watching TV, or hanging out with friends — were productive or wasteful.

The study finds people who consider leisure activities wasteful enjoyed the activities less than people who think they’re helpful. Additionally, participants who view leisure activities as unproductive displayed higher anxiety, depression, and stress levels, as well as lower levels of happiness.

Not everyone views leisure the same way

America may place a heavy emphasis on a strong work ethic, but other countries have also adopted a mindset that leisure activities are a waste of time.

Another study comparing perceptions of leisure in other countries found that people living in America or India believed leisure to be an unproductive way to use your time. The French, on the other hand, were less likely to view leisure activities as wasteful.

“We live in a global society and there are people everywhere that hear the same messages about how important it is to be busy and productive,” concludes Rebecca Reczek, professor of marketing at Ohio State. “And once you believe that, and internalize the message that leisure is a waste, our results suggest you’re going to be more depressed and less happy, no matter where you live.”

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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  1. The key to a better mind is to embrace leisure—a reminder supported by research that downtime isn’t wasted time. Let’s put happiness and health first.

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