Does your free time replenish you?

excited woman watching tvThe above title may appear like an innocent question, but answering it truthfully may be embarrassing and thought-provoking at the same time.

As you may remember, I wrote about changing my mood by changing my behavior two weeks ago. I remember thinking that if I spent the rest of my day watching television and reading I would feel better.

In other words, I assumed that watching television) is some kind of “quality time”.

But is it really?

I just started two new hobbies, salsa dancing and singing in a choir. When I compare watching telly to salsa and choir it becomes glaringly obvious that watching television has nothing much to offer in comparison. I get endless fun and energy from learning to dance salsa and sing in a choir. From a night-long television marathon I usually only get a numb butt and a vague feeling of time ill spent. Wait, if I watch television in an awkward position I may also get a headache as a bonus! 🙂

But that is not all. There is something really weird going on.

Research has shown that people seek to spend the majority of their free time watching television, even though almost any other activity gives them more flow experiences, including any work-related activities (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989). As Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre write,

Following the que of their motivation, people will try to do more of those activities that provide the least positive experiences and avoid the activities that are the source of their most positive and intense feelings.

Huh? Say again? Yes, people seek activities that don’t give them satisfaction. As you may or may not know, flow experiences are more likely in activities that are challenging, goal-directed, rule-bound and provide immediate feedback on how you’re doing.  So it’s pretty obvious why I get more out of salsa dancing, singing in a choir and yes – scrubbing my tub – than sitting in front of the television.

Sadly, people seem to be somewhat blind about what is really good for them – myself included. I think that our lives have been captivated by television (and mindlessly surfing the Internet) partly because it’s so easy and effortless. Other ways of spending our leisure require much more effort to initiate than watching tv, including exercise and other hobbies.

Be as it may, my original questions stands:  Do you spend (any of) your free time in a way that energizes and revives you?

P.S. You might also be interested in finding out what is the most dangerous form of  physical activity.


  1. Marion says:

    Hi Satu! Love this post and the research in it(!!!) and will link it to my AFF Facebook page.

    My answer to the question was, “It depends.” Getting outside nearly always does some amount of replenishment. Family outings are very good for me. Computer and t.v. time drains me–nearly always. TOPS is awesome, as is my gym time–because I connect with friends. Too much shopping is over-stimulation due to the bombardment of sales promotions. Car conversations with family members matters. I think time in the car is often our family’s biggest connecting time. But yes, some of the stuff we do to relax, like t.v., is very counter-productive. Yet, I’m SO EXCITED for the new t.v. season to begin. Lol. 😀

    • Satu says:

      Thanks for sharing the article, Marion! I feel the same about many of the things you mention – I need to have regular walks outside to stay sane. Also, anything that involves social contact is good for me – that is one reason I enjoy salsa classes and choir. Did you know that one “non-work” activity people really enjoy is driving?

      I wish I had something to expect tv-wise, but I don’t have any favorite programs at the moment. I don’t think that watching television is bad per se -but watching it in excess almost certainly is. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing!

      • Marion says:

        What I want to watch is: 1) Grey’s Anatomy; 2) Pretty Little Liars; 3) The Carrie Diaries; 4) Bones;
        5) Sherlock (whenever that season is); 6) Call the Midwife (whenever that season is); and 7) Downton Abbey (in January). <<Lots of deeply educational viewing there! But the seasons don't all come at once. Further, I mostly watch on internet now. So I can prioritize my life over t.v. viewing schedules. But yes, I was actually thinking of making a blog post about these guilty pleasures. It's the Netflix marathons that really overdoes it. 😀

  2. Oh, I don’t know about this one. I’ve always LOVED television. As a child I loved TV and now – same. I used to be a movie buff as well, but have been to the movies twice in the last two years (and one of those times was to do a review!). But… TV… #love.

    I feel it energises me (as does reading – incidentally) in the sense that it sparks my creativity. I really try to appreciate the writing on TV (and my fave shows are those with AMAZING writing!) I ONLY watch shows I want to watch though and don’t put the television on at other times. I’m quite strict about that. At the moment I tape a lot of stuff (if I’m on a reading binge) and watch it on other nights. So – I’m pretty selective and won’t watch something for the sake of it.

    • Satu says:

      HI Deb! People don’t usually get much flow experiences watching tv, but it doesn’t mean they never do. I suppose it depends on the way one watches tv – if you “vegetated” in front of TV for hours every day you probably wouldn’t get much out of it either. I think it’s a bit like eating chocolate: if you eat it every single day and gobble it down in two seconds the experience isn’t what it could be. 🙂

      Last week I went to see the Heat comedy with my friend. Plenty of brilliant dialogue!

      Maybe you should be a screenwriter?

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