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Heather Mair and Troy Glover are professors in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo. Mr. Glover is also department chair, and Ms. Mair is past president of the Canadian Association for Leisure Studies.

It takes a pandemic to appreciate what matters in life.

Not surprisingly, Canadians are now re-evaluating how to live as their best selves after suffering through the seemingly endless waves of COVID-19. No doubt, our critical reflection stems from enduring successive bouts of isolation; on-again/off-again shutdowns of workplaces, schools and businesses; and the cancellations of cherished events and activities. If the Great Resignation tells us anything, it’s that life means more than work. Balance in life matters. Leisure matters.

As colleagues who work together in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo, we invite others to join our bandwagon and celebrate the warming weather by recognizing the salience of leisure in our lives. After all, we’ve spent our entire careers championing this message to anyone who would listen. And believe us, we’ve attended many social gatherings where we’ve been pressed to explain what leisure scholars actually do (let’s just say our job goes well beyond conducting our own personal studies of what constitutes a leisure activity).

Call us absurd, but beyond being an important source of joy, we see leisure as holding the key to addressing some of the greatest ills facing humanity. The right to leisure for all is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 24: The “right to rest and leisure”). Accordingly, we must do more to make room for leisure in our lives.

As we face a new epidemic of social isolation and loneliness, leisure connects us with others and our communities. It helps us form trusting relationships and generate social capital. Shared leisure interests, such as sports, games and music, allow us to create a community of people on whom we can eventually lean, and from whom we can draw support, which contributes crucially to our wellbeing. By expanding our social networks, we position ourselves to more effectively get by and get ahead in life.

At a time when Canadians are battling a variety of challenges, especially in mental health, leisure forms the basis of “social prescribing” an initiative that involves adding activities such as volunteering, taking a cooking class or joining a book club to the list of supports available to manage our health. These leisure-based supports go well beyond managing illness; they encourage us to live meaningful and socially active lives.

In an age when polarization plagues our political discourse, leisure provides necessary social spaces in which individuals can express different opinions, discuss problems of general concern and consider collective solutions. Grassroots involvement in leisure activities can help generate the civic skills and habits necessary to bolster our democratic system. In this sense, hanging out at the local curling rink or playing in a cricket league can get people talking in a meaningful way, and help us understand different points of view across ideological lines. With democracy under threat around the world, these leisure spaces have never been more important.

As overconsumption threatens the sustainability of our planet, leisure can help us consume less and build lives that are grounded in community and ecological sensitivity. Slow living, which allows us to act more carefully and consciously, is challenging our fast-paced modern lifestyles. Here, we can draw on the notion of buen vivir, a term developed to express how individual wellness must be linked with the wellbeing of our community and environment. Leisure affords a chance to reflect on our ecological footprint and improve our relationships globally and locally.

The pandemic has reinvigorated the idea of a shorter workweek, offering an opportunity to not only lessen the environmental impact of transportation, but also challenge the very notion of productivity and how we spend our time. Filling more of our days with leisure activities, such as walking in the community, seeing friends or sharing a hobby can lead to richer, more meaningful lives.

We recognize that leisure is no panacea. As students of leisure, our work has opened our eyes to issues of access, as well as to the ways leisure can reinforce homogeneity, stereotypes, inequity, injustice and exclusion. By broadening accessibility and ensuring leisure is affordable, accessible and welcoming, its benefits could be much more far-reaching.

Deep down, we’re convinced everyone unconsciously knows leisure is important to them. Sometimes it takes stressful events, such as a global pandemic, to offer some perspective and a chance for change. As spring takes hold, we call upon Canadians to take a break, go for a walk, sign up for that basket-weaving class and reflect on how leisure matters to you. We’ll all be better for it.

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