by Mary Delaney, MS,LPC
There’s a reason we’re groggy. Statistics show that over five hours a day is spent on leisure pursuits that aren’t truly restorative. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that we devote the largest chunk of our down time on the least emotionally satisfying activity – TV watching.
Though binge watching Netflix and immersing ourselves into social feeds can feel immediately gratifying (the brain releases dopamine and provides instant comfort) - resting on the couch isn’t producing the restorative effect that we think. Not by a longshot.
Hedonic (immediately pleasure-producing) leisure pursuits have little revitalizing power. Need proof? Flashback to a marathon watching weekend of Game of Thrones, (no judgement, we’ve all done it) and ask yourself if you felt truly refreshed by the time Monday morning rolled around. Probably not. Turns out, our bodies don’t require as much passive rest as we might think.
Instead of numbing out to video games and online shopping, Positive Psychologists recommend making “eudaimonic” (instead of hedonic) happiness our goal. In the Annual Review of Psychology, Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci from the University of Rochester describe the eudaimonic approach as more focused on meaning and self-actualization rather than the hedonic pure pursuit of pleasure.
Eudaimonic activities can be social, altruistic, creative, or have a sense of play.
Socializing in any way (church, club, meet-up) pays big emotional dividends. Having social bonds protects against depression and helps us feel more connected in an increasingly more disconnected world.
Multiple studies show that doing something altruistic (helping your neighbor’s kid with his math homework, weeding a community garden) helps us feel more capable and connected.
In my opinion, engaging in your creative “flow” state is at the top of the eudaimonic list.
Becoming engrossed in a creative project, hobby, or pursuit temporarily inhibits our prefrontal lobe, enabling us to experience a deep sense of calm and mindfulness. Also, research reports that senior citizens with a “flow hobby” are also less susceptible to dementia.
If you find your flow with another person or by participating in a group project, you amplify the restorative effect even further.
Play is something we do with no known outcome or goal. To me, play is very mindful because it demands our attention (otherwise we may get bonked in the head with a ball). Engaging in play regularly (at least once a week) can help us lighten our emotional tread and give our tightly scripted lives an opportunity to breath.
There are also negative physical consequences to practicing passive leisure. It probably comes as no surprise that passive couch potatoes have a greater risk of heart disease and a greater accumulation of stress hormones. The reverse is also true. We now have empirical proof that spending time outdoors (especially in nature) helps reduce stress hormones and improves heart health.
So, putting down the remote and picking up a more restorative eudaimonic activity may be key to your emotional well-being. Reserving time on the weekends to toss a frisbee, pick apples, help a friend, or learn a new guitar chord will help you feel more relaxed, revived and rejuvenated come Monday morning.
Mary Delaney is a writer, licensed psychotherapist, and Relationship Coach. Her areas of interest include Healing Childhood Emotional Neglect, Finding True Purpose, Relationships, and the Creative Personality.