Health and aging scholars have long been interested in the relationship among physical activity, leisure, and satisfaction with life. Research suggests that productive engagement with physical activity enhances quality of life and happiness in older adults. Likewise, participation in leisure activities such as attending concerts, shopping, going to the movies, dining in restaurants, and visiting friends and relatives contributes to greater subjective well-being. One recent Polish study examined the relationship between the type and relative importance of a broad range of activities and a sense of enjoyment and experiential well-being in 200 community-dwelling adults 65 and better.
The author used the Experiential Sampling Method (ESM) to explore the association between activity enjoyment and 1,809 daily activities, including their subjective assessment by study participants vis-à-vis experienced stress, activity importance, and the level of effort involved. Short (approximately 3-minute) twice-daily telephone interviews were used to collect activity reports from participants. Activity-level study measures included type of activity and the presence of others during the activity (e.g., family or friends). Individual-level measures included satisfaction with life in general, age, gender, income, perceived health, marital status, parenthood status, and area of residence. The authors found that the most enjoyable activities were those that nurtured spiritual or social connectedness such as religious practice, childcare, and socializing with friends. Going on walks and taking care of pets and animals were also on the list of most enjoyable activities. Running errands, using medical services, and caring for adults were the least enjoyable activities, and were also associated with higher levels of stress. Overall, a higher level of enjoyment predicted a higher satisfaction with life in general.
Given the small sample size of 200 adults, this study is not representative of the entire older adult population. However, it highlights how even those in poor health can still enjoy daily activities, particularly when carried out in the presence of friends or by alternating challenging activities such as physical exercise with more relaxing ones such as enjoying an interesting book.
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Jarosz, E. (2021). What makes life enjoyable at an older age? Experiential wellbeing, daily activities, and satisfaction with life in general. Aging & Mental Health, 1-11.