You can never have too much of a good thing, right?
Wrong, according to a new study.
While leisure time is universally acknowledged to be vital for general wellbeing and quality of life, having too much of it might actually be damaging.
The research found that having more leisure time didn’t necessarily make people happier – in fact, in social cultures that prize being busy and having multitudes of plans, this was particularly true.
It highlights that our attitudes towards leisure time – though often an independent activity – are shaped heavily by influences and ideas around us.
Somewhat discouragingly, it shows we’re never truly free of the thoughts and expectations of wider society.
With this in mind, the research on 22,000 working Americans conducted by Marissa Sharif at Wharton School at Pennsylvania University, found that two to five hours a day is the optimal amount of leisure time.
Having leisure time certainly was beneficial for people, and having access to that time improved their outlooks on life, this hits a limit after a certain number of hours.
Positive experiences actually started to decline on many subjects after five hours.
Marissa said: ‘We found that having a dearth of discretionary hours in one’s day results in greater stress and lower subjective wellbeing.
‘However, while too little free time is bad, having more is not always better.’
She says that for those in retirement or out of work, and therefore with ‘excessive amounts of discretionary time’, they would likely benefit from ‘spending their newfound time productively or connecting with others’.
Being the social creatures that we are (with our capitalist social structure that prides productivity to boot), this makes sense.
Research from a second group of 14,000 people then showed that the quality of the leisure time was important too – simply having the time isn’t enough.
Spending time in the company of others boosted how people felt more so than when alone.
Ticking off tasks, in the name of productivity, also boosted how people felt about their leisure time.
Marissa said: ‘For the many who feel they do not have enough time, the answer is not to quit all obligations.
‘Our findings suggest that ending up with entire days free to fill at one’s discretion may leave one similarly unhappy.
‘They should instead strive for having a moderate amount of free time to spend how they want.’