According to a study by The Society for Personality and Social Psychology, older people are more likely to value their time (compared to those who are younger), and want to spend their time in more meaningful ways than just making money.
Over the years many of us have forgotten what to do when faced with the prospect of time to ourselves. Bringing up a family, maintaining a career and running a household leaves little opportunity for premium ‘me-time’, and it’s not uncommon to feel guilty if we think we’re not doing something useful or productive.
As we get older, we find ourselves with more time on our hands, even while holding down a job. What better opportunity to rediscover doing things for enjoyment?
Many leisure activities promote well being, says lead researcher Ashley Willans, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of British Columbia. “Our research suggests that active hobbies, such as exercising and socialising, can have greater happiness benefits as compared to passive activities such as watching television or relaxing.”
So, while going for an Indian head massage or sneaking an afternoon at the cinema might be enjoyable, the benefits won’t be as long-lasting.
And if the me-time activity is outside your comfort zone, all the better, says Ashley. “Engaging in novel leisure activities could yield the greatest happiness benefits.”
By chance, I had the opportunity to witness this myself. Completely out of the blue, I found myself taking part in an art class as a favour to a friend.
I wasn’t particularly keen, and felt even less so when I discovered that we would be working in pastels and drawing a lion’s head. Yet once I got stuck in, I lost all sense of time and I produced a piece of work I was actually proud of.
More importantly, I was astonished by how refreshed I felt, as if I had been taken out of my world and given a holiday.
Being part of the small art group also imbued me with an unspoken sense of community. It’s easy to see the appeal of being part of something that offers companionship, whether it’s a regular dance class, a walking group or a weekly stitch and bitch session.
“People are often stuck in their routines,” she Ashley Willans. “So, engaging in novel leisure activities could yield the greatest happiness benefits.”
In his book How To Develop Emotional Health (Pan MacMillan), psychologist Oliver James agrees that membership of groups promotes emotional health. “Just being part of a tennis club or doing weekly line dancing lessons will lessen your sense of rootlessness and emptiness,” he says.
“It can help confer a sense of who you are and how to live your life, providing a foundation for vivacity and playfulness.”
And isn’t that actually what “me-time” is – an adult at play? You are giving your brain a rest from all the day-to-day pressures that take up so much space in our heads.
We should learn to recognise “me-time” as an essential recalibration of our mental and emotional facilities.
“My colleague Michael Norton, of the Harvard Business School, suggests that giving time away, for instance by volunteering, might produce the greatest benefits,” says Ashley Willans. “Volunteering our time can not only improve happiness, but it can also reduce our feelings of time pressure, because giving away our time can make us feel like we have more of it!”