Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Working harder on leisure

Edited by Jill Wright,

We all know how stressful work is these days. Everyone talks about the insane demands of unreasonable bosses, out-of-control email inboxes and the impossibility of achieving a healthy work-life balance.

So how do we reconcile that with a recent Pennsylvania State University study that measured cortisol levels (a principal marker for stress) in 122 men and women and found that people are significantly less stressed at work than at home?

It turns out that being at work is good for our health - something we've actually been aware of for quite some time. A number of studies have reported that people in full-time work have better mental and physical health than those who don't work.

According to study leader Sarah Damaske, paid work is more valued in society, and household work is monotonous and not particularly rewarding. We are also more likely to feel appreciated at work.

The Wall Street Journal found an example of someone who sometimes goes to work during the evening or on the weekend to get away from her family's demands.

It also quotes some useful advice from psychologist Richard Levak: learn to set the same boundaries and behavioural etiquette that we're familiar with in the workplace at home. Spouses and children might need a little help with that, but they can learn if you persist.

In The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman says that we've also got to work on our ideas about leisure.

He says that work so dominates our culture that we can't help but think of down-time as a negative idea, pointing to science journalist Winifred Gallagher's 2010 book, RAPT, in which she looks at the way our attention works.

Gallagher [some quotes here] found that we're just not happy when we fail to build some structure around our leisure hours, and instead regard "relaxation" as a state of doing nothing, or leaving space for spontaneity.

He invites us to read a self-help book, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, (available free through Project Gutenberg) written more than 100 years ago by English novelist and journalist Arnold Bennett.

It includes the following quote: "[The office worker] persists in looking upon those hours from 10 to 6 as ‘the day’, to which the 10 hours preceding them and the six hours following them are nothing but a prologue and epilogue. Such an attitude, unconscious though it be, of course kills his interest in the odd 16 hours, with the result that, even if he does not waste them, he does not count them; he regards them simply as margin."

Sounds familiar?

Tags

About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.