Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Enhancing a Sense of Independence and Psychological Well-Being among the Elderly: A Field Experiment

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Enhancing a Sense of Independence and Psychological Well-Being among the Elderly: A Field Experiment

Article excerpt

Introduction

To be able to exercise control over one's life has often been described as the pillar of human functioning and living. "At the core of one's psychological functioning is the belief that he/she is able to undertake various tasks and activities and is capable of performing them successfully" (Iso-Ahola, 1984, p. 115). It follows that a sense of control and freedom becomes critical to both psychological and physical health (Rodin, Timko, & Harris, 1985). This was demonstrated in now-classic experiments by Langer and Rodin (1976), Rodin and Langer (1977), Schulz (1976), and Schulz and Hanusa (1978), Nursing home patients' psychological and physical health were significantly improved by enhanced perceived control and freedom. Most dramatically, the mortality rate was reduced by the experimental manipulation that stressed enhancement of a sense of personal control and freedom. These experiments and their findings demonstrated that a sense of control is fundamental to human life, even to the very end of it. When people give up personal control, they become helpless and lose the sense of purpose in life as well as the will to live (Seligman, 1975).

This importance of personal control and freedom suggests that people want to be able to live their lives independently, at least within western society. While the degree of personal control and freedom may vary, the desire to be self-determined to the end of human life is evident (Langer & Rodin, 1976; Rodin & Langer, 1977; Schulz, 1976; Schulz & Hanusa, 1978). It is not surprising that a greater sense of control over life correlates positively with lower rates of illness and better health (Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993; Deci & Ryan, 1987). A corollary to all of the above is that the biggest constraint to independent living and psychological well-being is the belief that one is not able to undertake tasks and activities and complete them successfully. In other words, a sense of lack of personal control and competence critically undermines one's desire to live independently.

If independent living is psychologically the essence of human functioning, because it promotes physical and psychological health, it then becomes important for society to create the environment and programs that are likely to enhance a sense of control and competence in its citizens, especially among those whose sense of independent living has eroded due to various factors and circumstances. Leisure education has long been touted as a modality that not only increases people's awareness about the importance of leisure but also promotes a sense of personal control and competence (Datillo & Murphy, 1991). In fact, many scholars have suggested that the promotion of independent living should be the ultimate goal of leisure education programs (Datillo & Murphy, 1991; Dunn, 1981; Tabourne, 1992). The same applies to therapeutic recreation programs as well (Austin, 1991; Peterson & Gunn, 1984). Currently, there are leisure education programs that specifically focus on enhancement of personal control and competence and thereby independent living (Bullock & Howe, 1991; Bullock & Luken, 1994). Does enhanced control and competence result in higher levels of life satisfaction and reductions in boredom? Does a leisure education program aimed at increasing personal leisure control and competence positively influence feelings of control outside the domain of leisure? In other words, are such leisure education programs successful? Do they achieve their goal? The present study was planned to answer these questions.

It is important to note that there is a difference between a sense of independent living and actual independent living. The former refers to a perception of it while the latter refers to actual independent living as reflected by relevant behaviors. Such relevant behaviors include activities of daily living such as personal hygiene, climbing stairs, preparing meals and instrumental activities of daily living which include such things as leisure pursuits (Verbrugge, 1990). …

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