When I was catching up with friends, one of them happened to mention that they had gone off social media completely. At that point, another friend asked, “What do you do in your free time if you don’t scroll or check social media?” This made me wonder about our idea of leisure and how it may have changed over the years.
With advances in science and technology, and work from home, a lot has changed when it comes to work hours, our idea of work, and, as a result, our understanding of leisure.
As a concept, leisure is generally associated with free time. This is the time we spend away from work responsibilities, chores, house tasks, taking care of our family’s needs, to rest, recover and relax. These Three Rs, as I describe them, serve a restorative function and provide an opportunity for us to pause. My sense is that children have a better relationship with leisure than adults, though even children are given access to devices and smartphones in their free time.
As a child, I used to think of leisure time as a sacred space where I could read novels uninterrupted or go for a walk, be out in nature and just sit and daydream. There was a lightness attached to it and a sense of calm.
However, adults have a complex relationship with leisure. Both in therapy sessions and in conversations with friends, what seems to come up is that women feel they get far less time than men to engage in leisure activities or just relax even on weekends.
Technology seems to have changed our concept of leisure activity. When people are able to take microbreaks or off on weekends, the itch to check our phones and start scrolling takes over. The phone becomes a leisure-time activity; sometimes people spend hours on it without even realising it.
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Yet scrolling for a significant length of time, whatever the reason, leaves us feeling tired—so it doesn’t serve the function of leisure. Moreover, as a client mentioned: “Now people use social media to promote their brand, work so even mindless scrolling feels like work and can end up making one feel jealous, low. As a result, being on social media also feels like more work.”
I hear a lot of adults tell me they struggle to rest and find it very hard to stay still and enjoy their leisure time. The narrative of being productive all the time has made it harder for people to enjoy their free time. Over the years, the idea of optimisation seems to have invaded every aspect of life, so many of the activities that people engaged in during their free time now also have work built into them. Listening to an audio book, a podcast related to your work while you jog or run, watching your favourite show and simultaneously clearing your inbox—we seem to be getting better at optimising. What we are forgetting is that our bodies and minds need to mono-task. The pressure to multitask and optimise every second doesn’t allow for leisure.
Our relationship with leisure is also about the attitude we take to rest and how we allow ourselves to engage in it. Learning to examine this is important, given that our lives are so complex and that we are constantly overwhelmed by new information. Given the constant pressure to learn, grow and stay updated, we need to be mindful if we are using our leisure time again to catch up on things which, in turn, may seem like work. This is one of the reasons why so many adults today feel that while there is free time, it’s always filled with activities, making it hard to enjoy. Leisure should feel relaxing, not work, so pause and allow yourself to re-imagine your relationship with it, possibly without screens.
If you struggle with it, try to think of a holiday or childhood memory where you felt rested and allowed yourself to savour the feeling.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health With Sonali.