Do Leisure-generated Social Relationships Contribute to Happiness?

여가에서 발생되는 사회적 관계와 행복간의 관계에 대한 고찰

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    The intent of this study is to provide researchers with an understanding of how leisure-generated social relationships influence happiness of older adults. The research on social support has primarily focused on the structural (e.g., size and density) aspects of leisure-generated relationships and less so on the functional (e.g., emotional and instrumental) aspects (Kerstetter, Yarnal, Son, Yen, & Baker, 2008), particularly those of older adults. “Given that loss or disruption of social relationships is a common occurrence in later life, it is important to understand how older adults seek to maintain important social and emotional needs” (Zettle & Rook, 2004, p. 440). Therefore, the purpose of this study is to understand what older adults receive through leisure-generated social relationships and to clarify the contribution of this types of social support to happiness.

    본 연구의 목적은 노인들이 여가에서 발생되는 사회적 관계를 통해서 어떠한 것을 얻을 수 있는지 이해하고 더 나아가 이러한 사회적 지지와 행복간의 관계를 규명하는데 있다. 사회적 지지에 관한 연구는 - 특히 노인을 대상으로 - 주로 구조적(예, 크기나 밀도)인 측면을 다뤘으며 정서적인 면이나 도구적인 기능면에 있어서는 적게 다루어져 왔다 (Kerstetter, Yarnal, Son, Yen, & Baker, 2008). 노년의 삶에 있어서 사회적 관계의 상실이나 붕괴 같은 것은 흔히 나타나므로, 노인들이 사회적이며 정서적인 욕구유지를 어떻게 추구하는지를 이해하는 것이 중요하다. 따라서 본 연구의 목적은 여가에서 발생되는 사회적 관계와 행복이라는 개념에 대한 이론적 기초를 제시하고 사회적 지지와 행복간의 관계를 논의하였다.


    social support , happiness , older adults

  • A considerable body of research has established a successful history of identifying the objective variables associated with the happiness of humans. Findings have indicated that close social relationships might be necessary for happiness but are not a sufficient condition for high levels of happiness (Argyle, 2001; Diener & Oishi, 2005). In other words, social relationships do not guarantee high levels of happiness, but they are found to be an important reason for it (Diener & Seligman, 2002). Furthermore, Argyle (2001) cites that social relationships influence happiness because they are a source of pleasure and an opportunity for shared leisure activities. Although leisure activities are recognized as one of a number of reasons for happiness including social networks with relatives and friends, and the act of helping others, there has been a distinct lack of research on how leisure-generated social relationships contribute to happiness.

    To address this issue, the author begins by reviewing concepts and theories of happiness along with recent studies related to social relationships and leisure. The concept of happiness is generally defined as in terms of positive affect, high life satisfaction, and infrequent negative affect; thus these three constructs are the three primary components of subjective well-being (Diener & Lucas, 1999). In this paper, therefore, the author uses the term happiness as subjective well-being that is not just the absence of negative feeling, but also the presence of positive emotional affect. Furthermore, this paper will identify the state of research on the concept of subjective well-being and the relationship of leisure-generated social relationships of older adults.

    What is the leisure-generated social relationship?

    A great deal of research has been devoted to the study of structural aspects of support but less attention has been given to the functional (e.g., emotional and instrumental) support that exists in leisure-generated social relationships. This is problematic because leisure-generated social relationships can consist of friendships and support that may be critical to the well-being of individuals, especially older adults (Rawlins, 1992). According to Berkman (1995), the support must provide a sense of intimacy representing an existential human need (House, 1981) which emotional support provides and is singularly important to well-being. Because of this broad importance in many life contexts, some researchers believe that measures of social support should typically include an assessment of emotional support.

    A growing volume of literature is documenting the importance of social support in terms of leisure-generated social support. For example, House (1981) integrated the views of social support in his work and divided the construct into four types: instrumental support, information support, emotional support, and appraisal support. Although support may be represented through multiple spheres, support is commonly divided into instrumental and emotional types (Antonucci, 1990; Cohen & Hoberman, 1983). The provision or exchange of instrumental or emotional resources is in response to the perception that others are in need. These needs are often associated with acute or chronic stressful experiences such as illness, life events, developmental transitions, and addiction. Therefore, the term “social support” is used to refer to the social resources that persons perceive to be available or that are actually provided to them by nonprofessionals in the context of both formal support groups and informal helping relationships (Cohen, Gottlieb, & Underwood, 2000).

    There is no doubt that leisure activities contribute to a good social life. The relationship between an activity and a strong social network, in fact, may be a cause and effect relationship; individuals who engage in leisure activities may meet and socialize with others more than those who are sitting at home. Pursuing leisure activity results very often in some form or level of social interaction. Friendships generated through engagement in leisure activities have great potential become especially close relationships depending on the choice of activity (Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993).

    Cohen et al. (2000) insist that once a person develops stable beliefs about the supportiveness of others, day-to day thoughts about social support are shaded to fit these preexisting beliefs such as providing that "maximize gains and minimize risks in social and emotional domains" (Lansford, Sherman, & Antonucci, 1998, p. 545). According to Hibbler and Shinew (2002), individuals can receive a variety of benefits from leisure-generated social relationships. For example, individuals can maintain a social identity through social relationships which can provide a wide variety of resources: emotional, informational, financial, and social supports. Each of these resources has important ramifications for individuals across the life cycle. Thus, these social relationships afford an effective means for establishing personal and communal relations and each of these has its own unique association with happiness.

    Over the past decades, researchers have focused much attention on understanding the relative impact of social relationships. Support represents a generic, synonymous term with the concepts of perceived support, available support, or functional support (Oh, 2008). In this vein, the author would like to discuss whether or not leisure-generated social support is useful as a resource in subjective well-being and more specifically coping with life's stressors among elders. Thoits (1986) suggested that social support could be reinterpreted as coping assistance from others. In addition, studies have also shown the effectiveness of social support in coping with the stressors of aging (Lawrence & Schigelone, 2002). As individuals face stressful circumstances, either on a daily or periodic basis, social support can promote the individual’s coping strategies in order to deal with the problem. Thoits (1986) cited two definitions of stressors that individuals might face and that could result in changes in their abilities thereby creating activity limitations. The first defines negative life events as those that result in undesirable changes in activity and require significant behavioral alterations (Brown & Harris, 1978). The second refers to chronic strains, which are recurring situations that require daily behavioral alterations (Pearlin, 1983).

    These definitions can apply to elders dealing with change in both ability and activity level. Changes could be brought on by negative life events, such as the advent of disease or the loss of a significant other. Other changes could be those that occur on a persistent basis requiring daily behavioral adjustment, such as living with a chronic disease or having restricted transportation. In this light, Thoits’ (1986) conceptualization of social support as coping assistance is appropriate to the current work. If an individual has strong social support, this support will be available to increase his or her own personal skills in adapting to changes in abilities and activity levels. In this vein, having active friends and/or being encouraged by at least one person were the most influential forces for older adults to participate in active types of activities (O’Brien, 1995).

    Do leisure-generated relationships contribute to happiness?

    Access to free time and discretionary income and the availability of social support (from partners, family, and friends) have been shown to be crucial influences on participation or nonparticipation in leisure activities (Bialeschki & Michener, 1994; Kay, 1998; Wearing, 1990; Wimbush, 1989); however, this has been illustrated in only a small number of studies of leisure in the lives of older adults. Social support from friends and families tends to correlate heavily with vigorous activity no matter what the age. Nevertheless, few studies on patterns of active leisure have demonstrated the importance of social support from family and friends in addressing leisure activity for older adults.

    According to Tinsley, Colbs, Teaff and Kaufmann (1987), “companionship” is one highly significant benefit of leisure participation for older people. Companionship in leisure activity can even lead to a perception that one is likely to receive social support in a time of severe life crisis (Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993). Pursuing leisure activity very often results in some form or level of social interaction. Making new friends and developing closer relationships with existing friends develops and/or broadens one’s social network serving to provide emotional and even physical support in times of crisis (Caldwell & Smith, 1988; Iso-Ahola & Weissinger, 1984; Weissinger & Iso-Ahola, 1984). Friendships generated through engagement in leisure activities have great potential to become especially close relationships as a result of the high level of perceived freedom and pleasure involved in the choice of activity (Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993). Coleman and Iso-Ahola (1993) postulate that well-timed and proper reliance on social support networks is of instrumental importance for taking direct control of life situations.

    Physical inactivity is highly prevalent in the elderly population worldwide. Since the prevalence of physical inactivity is positively correlated with age, the severity of the negative psychological and physiological consequences of sedentary lifestyles is of critical concern in the elderly population (Orsega-Smith, Payne, Mowen, Ho, & Godbey, 2007). The importance of the role of leisure activity in older adulthood is quite apparent. Leisure activity involvement can be particularly beneficial to the elderly because it can provide opportunities for growth and fulfillment that brings greater happiness later in life. Leisure activities often include social interaction which is seen as an especially essential ingredient to subjective well-being. Social support is considered to be important predictive characteristics of leisure activity. Not surprisingly social support is an active and cost-effective approach to increase physical activity, and can be provided at an individual level by family, friends, or others who provide encouragement to strengthen an individual's motives to be physically active (Orsega-Smith et al., 2007). However, few researchers have included both activity and social support when examining subjective well-being among older adults, and to my knowledge few studies have included social support, leisure, and happiness together. The relationship of activity and social support can be important in the development of early interventions to prevent negative feelings (e.g., depression, stress) or to enhance subjective well-being.


    When people want to have "a good life," most devote considerable time, energy, and money to pursue happiness. Yet even for those who are professionally and financially successful, they may wonder whether or not they are happy. Achieving "the good life" is surprisingly difficult. A number of variables including social relationships, work and leisure activities have been found to be significantly associated with happiness (Argyle, 2001). Among those three main reasons for happiness, social relationships are the most important reason for happiness (Myers, 2000). It is thought that leisure activities affect happiness mainly through the provision of social relationships (Crossley & Langdridge, 2005). Studies show that an increase in material goods does not correspond with increased levels of happiness. On the other hand, social relationships can be more important to subjective well-being that material prosperity (Diener & Oishi, 2005).

    Our society is challenged with an ever-increasing concern about the subjective well-being during later years. Leisure activities in later life provide opportunities for older adults to interact with new individuals and make new friends. These opportunities can be due to choice and actively seeking out new friends, or these opportunities can occur due to losses such as death, illness, or change in residential status. Research is needed on several fronts with this issue. First, we need to better understand if new friendships are important sources of social support and help elders cope, or if older, established friendships are better. Second, we also need to understand whether it makes a difference as to why these new friendships are being formed, out of loss or choice.

    Another issue to raise is the frequency and duration of pleasurable social leisure interactions. In other words, what is the best recipe for long-term psychological well-being? Larsen, Diener and Cropanzano (1987) have proposed that people have a need for many small moments of enjoyment, rather than less frequent great peaks of pleasure to maintain well-being. In other words, good or bad things make us only temporarily happy or unhappy (Brickman & Campbell, 1971), which means subjective well-being is a process not a place. Thus, one piece of advice could be to teach elders how to seek out frequent, daily small pleasures in life. We should give our efforts to make ourselves happier by gaining good life circumstances alone to give us long-term feelings of well-being (Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2005).

    Coleman and Iso-Ahola (1993) note that leisure activity, which is naturally highly social, can facilitate intimacy through companionship, friendship, and consequently, social support. The pursuit of leisure activity participation must be personally meaningful and important such that it can result in psychological benefits. Thus, continued involvement in meaningful social relationships through leisure activities and meaningful activities is required to maintain a fulfilled sense of subjective well-being, namely happiness (Lyubomirsky, Shelon, & Schdade, 2005).

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