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Recreation, Leisure and Play

The idea of leisure has been in existence for numerous centuries and has actually come to have numerous different significances depending upon the duration in history or the civilization that it originated from. From as early as Ancient Greece, Rome or Babylonia, the term we now referred to as leisure has existed in some form or another. As has actually been extensively noted in initial recreation texts, schole was both the ancient Greek word for leisure significance, “serious activity without the pressure of requirement” and is the root of the English word for school (Godbey, 2003).

To the ancient Greeks, leisure, education, and culture were linked. In other words, learning was offered just for the rich, people with the wealth to afford totally free time. Leisure, as we understand it today, has actually altered from the initial significance of the word. From what I have read and discovered in different books and short articles, Leisure can be defined in 3 various methods: leisure specified as a state of being or a mindset, leisure defined as an activity, and leisure specified as time.

I will go over the different definitions of leisure today and then discuss my concerns with each meaning.

Leisure Defined as a Frame Of Mind Leisure specified as a mindset is, in my mind, the least typically used definition of the word. The way to understand this concept would be utilize it in the context such as “somebody who is at leisure”; suggesting freedom from stress and anxiety, responsibility, or constraint or having an internal locus of control.

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Locus of Control describes an individual’s understanding of main reasons for occasions in life. More just, having an internal locus of control means that you think that you are the master of your own fate. John Neulinger (1974) states:

Leisure has one and just one vital criterion, which is the condition of viewed liberty. Any activity carried out easily, without restraint or obsession, might be thought about to be leisure. “To leisure” implies being engaged in any activity as a free agent and of one’s own choice. (p. 12) Now I want you to keep in mind this concept of leisure as any activity of one’s own free willed choice due to the fact that I am going to touch on it once again during the leisure specified as time. Leisure Defined as an Activity Leisure specified as an activity is utilized widely also.

Most people would agree that leisure activity is something that is fun and enjoyable during a non-working time. This idea makes it difficult to pinpoint a leisure activity though. Understanding if the activity is performed for intrinsic or extrinsic purposes may be the deciding factor whether the activity is leisure or not. The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties plays an essential role in stating several interesting philosophical problems. Why am I performing this action? If you are doing the activity because you enjoy it, then you are performing it for its intrinsic value.

If you do not want to participate in an activity, but you know that you will benefit from the activity, you are performing it for its extrinsic value. An example would be a person who practices on the piano because they like to play, versus a person who practices piano because they want to win a music contest. Who of the two is experiencing leisure as an activity? Most people would agree that the first person is definitely experiencing leisure as an activity. The second person is where the debate lays. It is the same exact activity as the first person, but the motivation for performing the activity is different.

I feel that as long as you, as a free willed individual, choose to perform any activity then you are experiencing leisure as an activity because you are fulfilling your desires. I feel that the only time when you are may not experience leisure is when you are dying. If you have lived a long life and eventually die from old age, I do not believe that you made the decision out of free will to pass away. Although, if a person commits suicide, does that persons free willed decision make the act of dying a leisure activity? Some good questions to ask: If your career is your passion, are you always at leisure?

Conversely, is a person without a job always at leisure? Musicians, professional athletes, and the homeless are all specific examples of situations that may help answer these questions. Leisure Defined as Time Leisure defined as time may be the most commonly understood meaning of the word today because of its positive connotations (Martin, 1975). People often use the word leisure and the term free time interchangeably. On the surface this definition seems fine, but as you delve deeper and ask difficult questions, it starts to become less clear. What is free time?

Free time is defined as time free of obligations or responsibilities, or time to do with what you please. As Neulinger stated his definition of leisure, performing the activity out of free will is the deciding factor for whether it is leisure or not. This idea brings this thought to mind. All human beings have been blessed with the gift of free will; a consciousness of who we are and of the decisions we make. Without consciousness we would still be aware of what is going on around us, but we would react to it in a reflexive, instinctive way. With consciousness, we can deliberately weigh what the senses tell us, and respond accordingly.

If this definition holds true, shouldn’t all of life be considered leisure? Every decision, every action, comes from our decisions of our own free will. If we continue with this thought, some questions arise:

  • Are there any instances in life that would prevent you from experiencing free will?
  • Do we always make decisions based on our desires?
  • Do having priorities that are not in sync with our desires negate our free will? These questions came after having a conversation with my friend. She told me that when you are a parent, you have obligations to your children that may interfere with your free time.

This is where the damn breaks open and it is up to the individual to decide. Her question was, “What if my needs as a parent cannot be fulfilled because I have work to make sure my kids are fed and clothed? ” I feel that even though you have the responsibility as a parent to provide for your children, you made the decision to have a child knowing full well the obligations and responsibilities that would ultimately come with that decision. Free time, who would have thought two little words, would bring up so many questions? My Definition of Leisure After contemplating on the various definitions of the term leisure I propose the following:

Leisure is the phenomenon experienced by all self aware beings whose decisions are based out of free will, whether those decisions are made in the conscious or subconscious mind of the individual. Recreation Recreation is any activity which is relaxing to humans or provides diversions from their normal routine, and in many ways is also a therapeutic refreshment of one’s body or mind. Any activity can potentially be a recreational one. Vacations to exotic islands, sporting events, meditation, watching television, or playing monopoly are all forms of recreation.

A key factor to the activity being considered a recreational activity is whether or not it is pleasurable. If the activity is not pleasurable then the activity cannot be considered recreational because it is not rejuvenating to the body or mind. For example, a couple travels to the Caribbean for a second honeymoon. They have planned the vacation far in advance and the tickets and reservations are non-refundable. Upon arriving, the weather is awful and the couple is unable to participate in any of the activities they had planned for the trip.

Even though the fact they were engaging in a commercial recreational activity, the weather prevented them from having an enjoyable time and therefore the vacation was not recreating to oneself or another. With the information provided, this vacation would not be classified as recreation. Fairchild defined recreation as “any activity pursued during leisure, either individual or collective, that is free and pleasurable, having its own immediate appeal, not impelled by a delayed reward beyond itself” (Fairchild, 1944).

Another aspect of recreation was presented by Gray and Greben (1974) as: an emotional condition within an individual human being that flows from a feeling of well-being and self-satisfaction. It is characterized by feeling of mastery, achievement, exhilaration, acceptance, success, personal worth, and pleasure. It reinforces positive self-image. Recreation is a response to aesthetic experience, achievement of personal goals, or positive feedback from others. It is independent of activity, leisure, or personal acceptance. (p. 23) This definition is not focused on the activity itself, but on the individual’s reaction to the activity; the individuals state of mind.

I would agree that this definition touches the heart of the subject much better. I stated earlier that any activity has the potential of being a recreational activity. This is true because it depends on how the individual feels about the activity. Most people experience pleasure during activities like exercise, sports, relaxing, and vacationing. If you think along these lines then it is easy to understand why some activities are generalized as recreational and why some are not. Although some people consider work pleasurable, most people do not love their job.

This is why I believe that work is not universally accepted as recreational. My Definition of Recreation After contemplating on the various definitions of the term recreation I propose the following: Recreation is a positive state of mind achieved during any physical or non-physical activities characterized by feelings which are rejuvenating and recreating to the body and spirit. Play Leisure and recreation as I discussed them are states of mind experienced by an individual. Play, although related to these concepts, is different in the fact that it is a means to achieve this positive state of mind which all living beings desire.

Play has existed since the beginning of time. Johan Huizinga (1950) described the characteristics of play as:

  • Voluntary behavior
  • Stepping outside of “ordinary life”
  • Secluded and limited in time and space
  • Not serious but absorbs the player intensely
  • Bounded by rules
  • Promoting formation of social groups that surround themselves with secrecy

As you read the characteristics, you realize that they appear in all forms of play. Although play is a common occurrence within all ages of life, it is a concept that it liked to immaturity in today’s society. The Instinctual Aspect of Play.

Play is a puzzle to scientists. Why do animals spend so much time and energy doing such silly things that seem to have no purpose? The struggle for survival in nature is deadly serious. What place is there for activities that don’t help animals eat, grow, and reproduce? Play is also very risky. Animals can break bones, pull muscles, or get bitten too hard. In a study of 14 Siberian ibexes (wild goats), more than one-third were hurt badly enough during play to cause limps-a serious concern in the race for survival. And animals can become so wrapped up in play that they are unaware of danger.

One study showed that 80 percent of the deaths among young fur seals occurred because the playing pups didn’t see predators coming! (Braaf 2003, ¶ 4) Why is play worth the risk? Many scientists believe it’s essential for survival-as important as food or sleep. Why Play? Most scientists believe that when animals play, they are practicing skills they’ll need later in life. This is why different kinds of animals play in different ways. Young predators, such as wolves, lions, and bears, play by stalking, pouncing, biting, and shaking their heads from side to side. They’re honing their skills for when they will run down, catch, and kill prey.

When a wolf pup chases its own tail, bites it, and yanks it back and forth, the pup is rehearsing skills it’ll need one day as a hunter. Research shows that smarter animals spend more time playing. Elephants play more than horses. Chimps play more than macaques. Wolves play more than rabbits. And parrots play more than either ducks or sparrows. Smarter animals also play in more creative and complex ways. Not surprisingly, humans and chimpanzees are among the most playful species. (Braaf 2003, ¶ 9) Here are three questions to start with: Why do humans play? Is play something that is learned, or is it instinctual?

And what purpose does it serve in humans? To answer the first question, Godbey (2003) presents the following: If you put a person in a dark tank of water heated to same temperature as their body in a dark room devoid of sound, their need for stimulation will be so great that they will usually start to hallucinate. If you are walking down the street with nothing much absorbing your attention, you may start to notice cracks in the sidewalk and make up a game in which you have to avoid stepping on them. (p. 46) In conclusion, humans need stimulation. If the mind is idle then the person will seek out the stimulation in his or her surroundings.

Whether or play is instinctual or learned, I believe that it is both. Most games that we play are learned, such as baseball, hide and seek, or even make believe games such as house. Obviously, not all forms of play are taught though. As in the example from Godbey, a person will make up a form of play if there are no other options for stimulation. Finally to understand the purpose of play in humans we must first discuss the four forms of play developed by Caillois (1958). The pursuit of vertigo in which one tries to momentarily destroy the stability of perception, escaping reality for the moment.

  • Games of chance
  • Make Believe

Contests which require appropriate training, the application of skill, and the desire to win As in animals in the wild, play is used to hone a person’s skill for later in life. Some examples of this are interacting with other children on the playground, which will increase social skills, hitting rocks with a stick, which will increase hand-eye coordination, and cloud watching, which will develop a persons imagination. My Definition of Play After contemplating on the various definitions of the term play I propose the following:

Play is voluntary behavior, bounded by rules, experienced by both human and non-human beings, which stimulates the mind and body, prepares an individual for similar future situations, and allows for personal growth within the individual. How Leisure, Recreation, and Play Relate Now that I have discussed my definitions of leisure, recreation, and play, I will explain how my definitions are related to one another. As I stated earlier, Leisure is the phenomenon experienced by all self aware beings whose decisions are based out of free will, whether those decisions are made in the conscious or subconscious mind of the individual.

Life, to me, is leisure because of our ability to act out of free will. The question should not be, “Is this activity a leisure activity? ”, but rather, “Is this activity considered good or bad leisure? ” Recreation, I feel, is a subset of leisure. All of recreation can be considered leisure, but not the converse. Recreation is a positive state of mind achieved during any physical or non-physical activities characterized by feelings which are rejuvenating and recreating to the body and spirit. The reason that not all of leisure can be considered recreation is because not all of life is recreating to the mind and spirit.

Play is a subset of recreation. Similar to leisure and Recreation, all of play is recreation, but not the converse. Play is voluntary behavior, bounded by rules, experienced by both human and non-human beings, which stimulates the mind and body, prepares an individual for similar future situations, and allows for personal growth within the individual. The main difference is that play is bounded by rules where recreation is not. Some examples of recreation that are not considered play would be meditation, reading, or watching TV.

If you look at the following diagram, I think it makes it easier to understand the relationship between all three of the concepts. [pic] Leisure is all encompassing. Within it lays recreation and play. Although they are both within leisure there are still some aspects of leisure that are not considered recreation. This blue arrow points to this area. The red arrow points to the area that is recreational but does not classify as play. Quality of Life The well-being or quality of life of a person is an important concern when trying to understand leisure, recreation, and play in an individual’s life.

Understanding quality of life is today particularly important in health care, where monetary measures do not readily apply. Decisions on what research or treatments to invest the most in are closely related to their effect of a patient’s quality of life. There are many components to well-being. A large part is standard of living, the amount of money and access to goods and services that a person has; these numbers are fairly easily measured. Others components like freedom, happiness, art, environmental health, and innovation are far harder to measure and are generally considered to be more important.

There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life in our everyday lives. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better. Neither of the strategies is effective when used alone. Changing external conditions might seem to work at first, but if a person is not in control of his or her consciousness, the old fears or desires will soon return, reviving previous anxieties. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 89) For instance, feeling secure is an important component of happiness.

The sense of security can be improved by purchasing a gun for home protection, placing security locks on the front door, having an alarm unit installed, or moving to a safer neighborhood. All of these actions would fall under making our external conditions fit our goals better. One also has to understand that perfect safety is, in all reality, not possible and risks are inevitable. Once a person understands this then the threat of insecurity will not have as great of a chance of having a person live in fear; ultimately ruining ones quality of life.

In society today, wealth, status and power have become symbols of happiness. People often assume that the rich and famous have very rewarding lives just because of their status. We often assume that life would be better if we were in other peoples shoes. The reality of the situation is that quality of life does not depend directly on what others think about us or what we own, but rather how we feel about ourselves and what happens to us in our everyday lives. Some people today suffer from affluenza, the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses.

It is an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. In layman’s terms, affluenza is experienced when people have the mentality that their possessions is what defines them as an individual. This is not to say that having nice things, being famous, or being is peak physical condition are irrelevant to happiness. These things can be genuine blessings but only if they make us feel better without having to sacrifice other important aspects of our life. Research on happiness suggests that in general, there is a mild correlation between wealth and well-being.

Given these observations, instead of worrying about how to make a million dollars or how to win friends and influence people, it seems more beneficial to find out how everyday life can be made more harmonious and more satisfying, and thus achieve by a direct route what cannot be reached through the pursuit of symbolic goals (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 91). How Leisure, Recreation and Play Affect Quality of Life Everyone is familiar with stress. We experience it in varying forms and degrees every day. In small doses, stress can actually be beneficial to us.

It is only when the stress becomes too great, affecting our physical or mental functioning, that it becomes a problem. The stress response of the body is meant to protect and support us. To maintain stability or homeostasis, the body is constantly adjusting to its surroundings. When a physical or mental event threatens this equilibrium, we react to it. This process is often referred to as the “fight or flight response. ” We prepare for physical action in order to confront or flee a threat. When it is part of a natural reaction to challenge or danger, the body’s response is called positive stress.

However, when you feel out of control or under intense pressure, you may experience the physical, emotional, or relational symptoms brought on by negative stress. Stress can cause both physical and emotional in an individual’s life. Stress adversely affects reproduction, sexual behavior, and growth. Stress inhibits the immune system, making you more vulnerable to colds, flu, fatigue and infections. Leisure, recreation and play are natural ways to reduce negative stress that builds up in the body therefore improving ones quality of life.

The human body is like any other system in nature. If we don’t have ways to vent our stress from everyday life through activities that are pleasurable, we will start to experience the negative side effects of stress. Final Thoughts My thoughts on the subject of leisure, recreation, and play before this paper could not be further from where my thoughts are now. I feel that too much emphasis is placed on unimportant things today. Society, more so than ever, has gotten into the habit of treating the symptoms of people, instead of treating the individual.

I feel that having a better understanding of the concepts of recreation, leisure, and play and the role they play in your life will ultimately lead to a happier and hopefully longer life.


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  3. Flow ‘ The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY. Harper and Row. Fairchild, H. (1944).
  4. Dictionary of sociology (pp. 251-252). New York, NY: Philosophical Library. Godbey, G. (2003).
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Recreation, Leisure and Play. (2017, Feb 02). Retrieved from

Recreation, Leisure and Play
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