A professor of therapeutic recreation has revealed that simple activities at home can be just as evocative and gratifying as an exotic vacation.
Yoshi Iwasaki, professor of therapeutic recreation at Temple University, compared Western leisure to non-Western, specifically looking at Indigenous, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures, and found that meaningful leisure that contributed significantly to quality of life, did not resemble popular Western ideas of leisure. Instead it was culturally based and most interestingly, in some cultures, existed despite a variety of socio-economic hardships.
His findings demonstrate the importance of enjoyable “leisure-like” activities for people of all socio-economic levels with different cultures.
“To get the maximum benefits from leisure, you don’t have to take the ultimate holiday. Focus on the quality of the experience instead of the actual activities,” said Yoshi Iwasaki, who explores leisure and quality of life (QOL) across cultures in the June issue of Social Indicators Research.
“In third world countries, for example, living conditions are not good. But even so, people are very resilient and seem to integrate culturally oriented enjoyable activities into daily life as an expression of cultural strength and as a way of having positive experiences that can lead to a good quality of life,” Iwasaki said.
“Leisure doesn’t have to cost money or involve major consumption. People value enjoyable and expressive activities in all cultures and if they can find meanings of life from these activities, the quality of life can be enhanced.” Iwasaki added.
While it’s known that leisure promotes quality of life, what is not yet understood is how leisure contributes to quality of life. By comparing different cultures, Iwasaki hoped to identify the common major pathways or mechanisms by which leisure can contribute to QOL. The researchers also wanted to explore uncharted areas in leisure research, as most of the body of existing work focuses on Western cultures. This required looking at leisure-like activities from a cultural perspective.
“The concept of leisure is Western. Aboriginals have no equivalent term but they do have culturally expressive forms of activities such as dance, music, sewing, craft circles, storytelling, painting, spirituality, and humour, which lead to benefits, including pride, stress release, self-esteem, survival, and harmony for both the individual and the group,” Iwasaki added.
Iwasaki and others have found that meanings can be derived from leisure-like activities in a number of ways. People who engage in these activities experience positive emotions and well-being, positive identities and self-esteem, social and cultural connections, enhanced learning and development across the life-span, and human strengths and resilience.
Middle Eastern women provide another example of culturally-based leisure-like pursuits that generate a great deal of meaning and promote good QOL. In their male-dominated society, they have little power. But they get together regularly with other women to create a safe space to talk, eat, and share child care. It’s a social occasion and a way of coping, survival, and even thriving.
“The overarching theme common to almost all cultures we examined appears to be the role of enjoyable and expressive activities as a way of creating meanings, which then help to promote the quality of people’s lives,” said Iwasaki.
For this reason, ultimately, Iwasaki’s hope is that his work will help policy-makers and practitioners understand the importance of providing culturally relevant and meaningful leisure-like activities for less-privileged populations worldwide.