Free time is glorified at times, but research reveals that it can be hazardous at times by promoting loneliness. According to a new Penn State study, engaging in important, demanding activities during free time can help people feel less lonely and more cheerful. An international team of researchers, led by John Dattilo, a Penn State professor of recreation, park, and tourist management, has been researching strategies to boost leisure and reduce loneliness among foreign college students and older persons during the pandemic. The researchers discovered that persons who had important, challenging experiences were less lonely, even when increased levels of social contact and support were not available, in two separate experiments. “There’s an old adage that goes, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun,'” Dattilo added. “When you’re bored, the implicit corollary is that time slows down. Both of these theories are supported by our findings. People can alleviate loneliness and boost immediate happiness by engaging in meaningful activities that require focus during idle time.”
Loneliness and the Pandemic
Previous study has indicated that loneliness has increased in recent decades, despite — or perhaps partly because of — technology that can connect individuals everywhere at any time. Loneliness affects people of all ages, including children, young adults, and the elderly. The global problem of loneliness was aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which drove many individuals to change their social behaviour in order to limit the spread of disease. “Loneliness has a strong link to our health,” Dattilo said. “When people are lonely, their psychological, emotional, and cognitive health are all harmed. Loneliness has been linked to depression and other mental illnesses.”
“”Confusingly,” Dattilo added, “there is a loneliness epidemic.” While the COVID-19 epidemic has made many people more lonely, the silver lining is that the pandemic has also shown the extent of the loneliness problem. Anything we can do as a society to eliminate loneliness should benefit everyone everywhere’s health and happiness.” The researchers investigated loneliness among international university students in Taiwan in a new article published in Leisure Sciences. Late in 2021, the same study team published a paper on minimising loneliness among nursing home patients.
Loneliness among international university students is frequent over the world, according to previous study. International students are cut off from their social networks and must adapt to a new society, often speaking a foreign language. International students can typically avoid loneliness by participating in social activities in order to receive’social support,’ or the feeling that the people with whom they socialise care about them. However, many group-based activities and social meetings were cancelled or forbidden during the pandemic. Furthermore, due to language and cultural barriers, the researchers discovered that the online social possibilities that arose as a result of the epidemic may be less accessible to overseas students.
Flow reduces Loneliness
Reduced loneliness, according to the researchers, is linked to engaging in rewarding activities that demand both concentration and competence. “When people become completely immersed in their work, they experience a state known as ‘flow,'” Dattilo explained. “Flow can be created by participating in mental or physical activities that we enjoy and that demand us to focus fully in order to employ our abilities.” An activity must take a significant amount of expertise from people to achieve a state of flow, but not be so tough that it appears impossible. It must also necessitate concentration in order to be executed and meaningful to the person. Flow can be achieved through artistic undertakings such as playing the piano or painting. Physical hobbies like skiing and wood chopping, as well as mental occupations like writing and storytelling, might be beneficial. Flow is different for each person depending on their unique abilities and values.
“We become absorbed and focused, and we experience fleeting delight when we enter a state of flow,” Dattilo concluded. “We are frequently shocked by how much time has passed when we exit a state of flow.” People with a lot of spare time, such as college students who are quarantined during a pandemic or nursing home residents, can experience flow by engaging in activities that they find meaningful. According to the researchers, as a result of this, time goes swiftly for them, their lives have significance, and their loneliness is decreased.
The primary way that people overcome loneliness is through social support from friends and acquaintances. Obtaining enough social support, on the other hand, might be difficult for many people. Although students with high amounts of social support were less lonely, the researchers discovered that flow was even more beneficial in alleviating loneliness. In instances where social support is limited, assisting someone in achieving flow might help them feel less lonely. More importantly, it can help people in any setting feel less lonely.
Encouraging flow for everyone
Depending on the individual, some activities never create flow, while others may or may not. There is nothing wrong with watching television, according to Dattilo, but it usually does not help people into a state of flow because they are unlikely to face any problems. Furthermore, different people find various hobbies to be important and entertaining. According to Dattilo, nursing home patients are unlikely to like bingo if they did not love similar games when they were younger. “It takes asking questions and listening to figure out which activities can help someone enter a state of flow,” Dattilo added. “Healthy engagement and challenge tend to make people happy. My team and I believe that this study will enable individuals to live more fulfilling, happier, and healthier lives.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology provided funding for this study. The study’s principal author was Liang-Chih Chang of Taiwan’s National Open University in New Taipei City. This study was also supported by Pei-Chun Hseih of Brock University in Ontario, Canada, and Fei-Hsin Huang of Lungwha University of Science and Technology in Taoyuan City, Taiwan.