Living a life of leisure amidst the chaos

For some it's packing the golf clubs in the car trunk and heading off; or maybe stopping by the fabric store to pick up some quilting materials.

It's called taking a break to pursue a favorite pastime. But for those carrying a bit of guilt for engaging in play, experts say it's time to put those negative feelings aside.

Enjoying leisure activities may improve a person's well being, even if that beloved golf ball ends up in the rough.

Lower blood pressure, healthier weight and better sleep habits are all linked to pleasurable pursuits, according to a study published in the journal, "Psychosomatic Medicine".

The detour from routine can also boost a person's self-esteem, the ability to cope with stress and an overall enhancement of life, say health counselors.

Preparations for leisure probably began in childhood. Most parents enroll kids in a smorgasbord of activities, such as softball, gymnastics, soccer, art classes and music lessons.

Eventually, kids continue the activities they like and drop the rest.

That's typical, according to Summer Reiner, PhD, assistant professor, school counseling coordinator, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, Brockport.

"When we look at the activities (people stick with) we see a common theme. You work at something until you get it right," Reiner says.

Perfecting a skill makes it more pleasurable, according to Reiner, who studied Americans and their leisure habits over a lifetime.

People may also find that as they enjoy themselves, play time also is defusing stressful feelings.

Your mind becomes totally absorbed in your leisure activity. You can feel good about what you're doing; you're good at it and get something positive from it," Reiner says.

Although retirement may be in the distant future for some, current pursuits may support good health as one ages, according to E. Christine Moll, PhD, professor of counseling and human services, Canisius College, Buffalo, N.Y.

Leisure activities are a social outlet; social outlets lead to better cognition," Moll says.

In addition, a person's interests are a positive way to create self-definition, especially in post-work life. Instead of a retiree telling people what she used to do, she can say she's a golfer or quilter, Reiner says.

Family and professional obligations, no matter how much fun, don't count toward leisure time, according to Moll.

"Leisure is a gift to yourself, whether it's working on needlework, jogging or golf. It gives you pleasure. It's not sitting at your child's soccer game," Moll says.

It's also crucial to separate true leisure from having excess time on your hands, Moll says.

When people are at a loss for something to do and are filling the hours with closet cleaning, they aren't taking advantage of leisure opportunities.

The best bet is to schedule leisure, according to Reiner.

If one takes a spontaneous pause, "you enjoy it but feel guilty because you played hooky and still have work waiting for you. If you plan, you don't feel guilty; you feel refreshed and ready for work," Reiner says.

However, even as personal interests are pursued, it doesn't equate to shutting out others.

For example, parents and children can cozy up on the sofa, each with a book to read. It's a win-win scenario that allows the parent to savor personal time, as well as set an example, showing children that leisure should be valued, Moll says.

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