September 18, 2012

A Doctor’s Concept of Serious Leisure in the Modern World. ~ Ellie Fraser

If only we could buy a magic bubble of everlasting “peace” from the local chemist as easily as we can obtain sleeping pills and Xanax.

We all experience some degree of physical and emotional distress at some point in our lives.

I know the feeling of failure when we give life everything we have and yet fall short. I know the stress of looking after families, raising children, keeping a sparkling clean house, cooking meals and trying to be loving partners and friends, as well as trying to make ends meet on a budget, working long hours, trying to hold down a mortgage and pay for ever rising petrol prices.

How on earth does everyone manage? Our bodies are just too tiny to cope with such big expectations and demands. It’s not surprising when everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control.

Several times, I came home on a Friday evening in tears and I had literally crawled onto the couch and hid under my favourite woolen blanket for the rest of the weekend wondering why I should try and persevere, when the odds were piled against me. There are times when I have wanted to scream, cry, tear someone or something to shreds, or smash our precious pieces of antique china just to be heard, just to find some release from our inner turmoil.

If we go to a psychologist they’ll issue with the standard “how to de-stress” brochure with an impressive list of breathing tactics and generic lifestyle changes such as “exercise 30 minutes a day, go for a walk, listen to some music.” Perhaps, if you’re feeling particularly run down, they’ll give you a prescription and will recommend you rebook for another counselling session.

Whilst those brochures are great for reminding you of those practical things you can do for yourself to relax, I feel this is not always an effective approach and it does somehow, undermine the pressure society heaps on us. It makes it sound like it’s our own fault, as if we’re the only ones to blame for stressing out and we’re in fact, totally in control of everything if we try harder.

The fact is there is no such thing as a permanent state of tranquility.

For me, peace, or tranquility, are present moments in which we find opportunities to be at leisure in our lives.

Some of us may find a moment of stillness and peace, when we are able to hand wash our dirty dishes, or by leisurely tidying the kitchen on a warm sunny Sunday. For others, that is merely a chore which we grumble at when we add it to the mile long list of “To-dos” with a capital T.

Certainly for me, I’d rather sit and read a book in the sunshine, play the piano on a cold dark evening, or just take myself off to a small coffee shop to spoil myself with one of their delicious chai lattes and lemon tarts and leave the dishes until later. After all, it can’t hurt to leave the dishes for a few hours later, it’s not like they have legs and can run away. Quite the opposite, we’re the ones with legs, who have the capability of “running away.”

Of course, it’s not always as simple a dilemma as that.

There are times when my boss is pestering me for a paper which was due last week. And the duty of parenthood calls and I barely find time to go to the bathroom in between carting them to school and home, to sports practice and home, to dance lessons and home, to their friends house and home, to the doctors and home. So on and so on. But duty will always be calling us no matter what we do.

In the current socioeconomic climate of the western world, there will be increasingly less opportunities to engage in those tranquil moments of leisure. Particularly as we are forced into taking jobs we absolutely can’t stand, or we struggle to find any means for employment at all. Only some of us feel at leisure while working and very few of us feel at leisure when we can’t find work.

In the modern day, we find less time to dedicate to self-discovery, hobbies, or to small desires of the heart. Perhaps it is time for us to discover the concept of “serious leisure.”

Dr. Robert A. Stebbins, a prominent sociologist defined serious leisure as, “… the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer activity that participants find so substantial and interesting that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a career centred on acquiring and expressing its special skills, knowledge and experience”( Stebbins, 1992).

Serious leisure has six main qualities:

  1. perseverance
  2. career
  3. effort
  4. unique ethos
  5. identity
  6. durable benefits that include self-actualization, self-enrichment, self-expression, recreation, accomplishment, self-image, social interaction, social belonging and lasting positive effects.

This differs to casual leisure which is an immediately, intrinsically rewarding, relatively short lived pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training to enjoy it” (Stebbins, 1997).

I really think these sociologists are onto something. It rings true for me and it’s a philosophy that I endeavor to enshrine into my daily life. In the past, I frequently engage in casual leisure by doing things like watching TV and whilst it helps de-stress, it does not have any long lasting benefits.

By deciding to be as serious about leisure, as we are about work, family and other demands, we may be able to feel alittle more re-energized and balanced, in such a hectic world.

Perhaps by working five days instead of six days, or deciding to make it a weekly bike ride outing with your kids, or about enrolling for that pottery class you’ve always said you’d “get around to,” or joining a serious football team.

We are at “leisure” purposely engaging in activities that give us time to breathe and to discover and be ourselves and are giving ourselves that moment that makes us feel good, makes us feel that we belong, or helps us to be still, to be quiet, to be loved, or perhaps it gives us a sense of accomplishment and appreciation. For me, these are moments that create a sense of wellness, tranquility and meaning in my life.

After all, life is merely a series of moments and it’s never permanent.

In a world that has increasingly high expectations, I do not see it as a crime to make time for some serious leisure time whether you are by yourself, or with families.

In fact I see it as a healthy necessity. We are bound to have our up and downs and frequent interruptions from external forces in this world, but we can still hold this new found philosophy dear to our hearts and to try and make opportunities that allow for us to explore this philosophy further.

Thank you Stebbins and other sociologists for shedding light on the Philosophy of ‘Serious Leisure.’

Ellie Fraser was born with a craniofacial disfigurement, profound hearing loss in one ear and severe hearing loss in her other ear. She has 20 % of her vision. She is currently studying at university and enjoy playing piano and creating artworks. She is passionate about making changing society for the better. She is active in many disability human rights groups and hopes to continue to support and offer them a degree of respect and honor as they so much deserve from us. She owes everything to her dad, who passed away just before she went overseas. She spent nine months caring for him as he battled last stages of pancreatic cancer.



Editor: Seychelles Pitton

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