Importance of leisure time and socialising to wellbeing confirmed

Activities such as spending time with family and holidaying are when we feel our best, indicating the importance of a work-life balance.
19 December 2016

Juggling young children and a job is the puzzle most parents have to solve. It was something Carolyne Ridley, now aged 70, faced back in 1983. A mother of three, Carolyne was working at Croydon YMCA when the opportunity arose to take the new Exercise to Music course. Riding on the back of the 80s fitness craze, when TV-am’s ‘Mad Lizzie’ woke up the nation in leotards and star jumps, the pioneering programme was developed by Central YMCA to teach group-exercise classes effectively and safely. 

“I think it went on for three months and after I qualified I was able to teach Exercise to Music at other venues,” she says. “Teaching then, I got £20 an hour, and because I had a high earning power I was able to work fewer hours and spend time with my children. At one point I was teaching 18 to 20 hours a week, which was the ideal situation because I wanted to bring my children up – I didn’t want them having to go to other people after school because I was working. I was able to be there for them.” 

Carolyne’s story is interesting because it reflects findings in our research report 'Eudaimonia: How do humans flourish'. In October 2016 we carried out a survey into the UK’s wellbeing and asked our sample of representative adults to tell us in which situations they felt their wellbeing was at its highest. The results were fascinating:

Activity where wellbeing is at its highest

  • On holiday – 66%*
  • Spending time with family – 56%*
  • Socialising with friends – 49%*
  • Exercising / playing sport – 44%*
  • Home – 44%*
  • At work / place of study – 22%*
  • Using social media – 20%*

*Percentage of respondents who choose this activity

Looking at the highest scoring responses we see clearly the importance of finding time for family and socialising in general, as well as leisure activities and holidaying. Interestingly, this has parallels in a recent study carried out by the London School of Economics which found that happiness depends more on friends and mental health rather than money.

Clearly employers can help with this – but actually, it’s also in their best interest to do so. In the forward to Business in the Community’s ‘The mental health toolkit for employers’ – published in association with Public Health England – Louise Aston, the organisation’s Wellbeing Director, writes: “It is often said by organisations that ‘our people are our most important asset’. It makes sense then to keep people as mentally healthy as possible.”

Mental Health Foundation has set out ten steps employers should take to promote worker wellbeing, which we have included in our report. But Carolyne’s story also offers another clue: She was in control. Her job allowed her the flexibility to juggle the differing parts of her life.

It’s something Anthony Painter, RSA Director of the Action and Research Centre, touched on at our Eudaimonia! event in October 2016: “Stress is bad, but it’s even worse if you have no control over it. A lot of changes we’ve been making over the past 20 years have created situations where people have less power and more stress.” 

Now aged 70, Carolyne still teaches three days a week. “I love it because it allows me to be independent and a big part of the job is meeting people,” she says. “We have groups that have been going to classes for years. People who have met through the classes now go on holiday together. It’s very sociable.”

With the average Brit scoring just 6.13/10 on their overall wellbeing in our report, it’s clear more work needs to be done. Trying to find solutions that allow us to adopt a flexible work-life balance, like Carolyne’s, could hold the key.

Download the full report 'Eudaimonia: How do humans flourish' by clicking on the button below [pdf].