The Right and Wrong Way To Spend Your Free Time

July 3rd 2017

Kyle Jaeger

To get optimal relaxation during your Fourth of July holiday, keep this in mind: there are two main types of leisure

And only one is going to leave you feeling rested and fulfilled by the time you get back to the office on Wednesday.

Katrina Onstad, author of "The Weekend Effect," talked to experts about the differences between "casual" and "serious" leisure—and why the latter of the two can give your system a healthy and long-lasting reboot over a weekend or holiday.

"Casual leisure pursuits are short lived, immediately gratifying, and often passive; they include activities like drinking, online shopping, and the aforementioned binge-watching," Onstad wrote for Quartz. "But serious leisure is a far more beneficial pursuit. Serious leisure activities provide deeper fulfillment, and—to invoke a fuzzy '70s word—'self-actualization.'"

What does self-actualization look like?

In this context, Onstad is using the term to refer to activities that require active effort, rather than passive leisure. It means taking on "meaningful, challenging activities that cause you to grow as a person," Onstad wrote. She broke these activities into four categories: socialize, hobbies, altruism, and play.

There's a reason that activities like watching television and drinking wine feel relaxing. They literally are—in the sense that these activities stimulate production of the "feel good" neurotransmitter dopamine. But when the dopamine recedes from your system as Monday hits, you might find yourself feeling unfulfilled after an ostensibly relaxing weekend.

1. Socialization

To avoid that post-weekend (or post-holiday) crash, pursue activities that involve socialization, rather than isolation. Numerous studies have shown that socializing is good for your physical and mental health—reducing symptoms of depression, strengthening your immune system, and even reducing your risk of developing dementia later in life, Psychology Today reported.

2. Hobbies

Hobbies can also help you make the most out of your time off. For example, learning a musical instrument can bring you a sense of fulfillment and is also known to reduce stress. As an added benefit, hobbies naturally lead to socializing, as they encourage people to find others who share their interests, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Social Indicators Research.

3. Altruism

While some of us view weekends as designated personal time, there's a case to be made that devoting time and energy to helping others is a more effective use of your free time. Onstad cited a 2010 study published in the journal Psychological Studies, which found that "spending time on others makes people feel highly effective and capable, which has the effect of expanding time."

4. Play

Finally, be sure not to take serious leisure too seriously. Making time for play—activities that have no defined time constraints, goals, or other restrictions—has its own set of benefits. So, it's ok to take an aimless stroll, meet a friend for coffee or make time for a beach day. As Onstad wrote, serious leisure will inevitably "include a hedonic component."