Attitude towards leisure and impact on mental health

“We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”- Dr Steven R. Covey, Author, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Dr Covey, in the above book, mentions the importance of taking care of our minds and bodies so that we can function at our best.  One such way to take care of our mind could be through some amount leisure activities.

Previous posts discussed various leisure activities and benefits of leisure activities on mental health.

This post looks at how our attitudes towards leisure activities can impact enjoyment and mental health.

What is leisure?

One definition of leisure is pleasurable activities that individuals engage in voluntarily when they are free from the demands of work or other responsibilities (1).

What was the study? (2)

Tonietto and colleagues published a paper that included 4 studies with a total of 1310 participants, looking at attitude towards leisure and its impact (2).

What activities were studied? (2)

  • Hanging out with friends
  • Relaxing
  • Watching TV
  • Hobbies
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Volunteering

What were the results?

  • In studies 1 and 2, people with a general tendency to find leisure wasteful report lower enjoyment of leisure activities on average, especially activities performed as an end in itself vs those performed as a means to an end (2).
  • Studies 1 and 2 also show that the belief that leisure is wasteful is also associated with lower reported happiness, and greater reported depression, anxiety, and stress (2).
  • Studies 3 and 4 (looking at causality)  show that believing that leisure is wasteful or unproductive reduces enjoyment of terminally-motivated leisure activities; but believing that leisure is productive does not increase enjoyment (2).

What does this mean?

  • According to this set of studies (2), participants having a negative attitude towards leisure activities experienced a negative impact from doing them.
  • The results were true whether the leisure activity was active (exercising) or passive (watching TV), social (hanging out with friends) or solitary (meditating) (2).

Other examples of healthy leisure activities (3) can be found here.

  • When balancing work and self care, different people might benefit from different types and amount of play during leisure time. How much and what type of leisure is best for you? What is your attitude towards leisure and how does/did this impact its potential benefit to you?

Campus resources on leisure:

Other useful resources on campus:

Learn more about play:

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By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.


  1. Zhang J, Zheng Y.  How do academic stress and leisure activities influence college students’ emotional well-being? A daily diary investigation. J Adolesc. 2017 Oct;60:114-118. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2017.08.003. Epub 2017 Aug 23.
  2. Gabriela N. Tonietto, Selin A. Malkoc, Rebecca Walker Reczek, Michael I. Norton, Viewing leisure as wasteful undermines enjoyment,Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 97,2021,104198,ISSN 0022-1031,