Enjoyment and the Good Life

By Estes, Cheryl; Henderson, Karla | Parks & Recreation, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Enjoyment and the Good Life


Estes, Cheryl, Henderson, Karla, Parks & Recreation


Research Update

The less-- advertised benefits of parks and recreation.

One of the unique qualities of parks and recreation services is its goal of bringing about enjoyment and the good life. Since the origins of public recreation and parks in the U.S., the charge has been, in part, to provide for Americans' pursuit of happiness. These notions of enjoyment and the good life relate to other terms, including quality of life, life satisfaction, subjective well-being, intrinsic motivation and flow.

With its focus on individual, community, environmental and economic outcomes, the "benefits" movement has served the profession well as a foundation for documenting important extrinsic benefits of parks and recreation. Professionals shouldn't forget, however, that the outcomes related to enjoyment are still at the core of what makes our profession unique and valuable among other human service areas -we facilitate fun and intrinsically motivating experiences. Although the values of our profession go beyond "fun and games," enjoyment is, at all times, central to our work. Therefore, parks and recreation professionals would do well to remember the unique thing they do best-providing people opportunities for enjoyment. The purpose of this research update is to inform parks and recreation professionals about what recent research tells us about enjoyment and the good life, and to indicate what applications this research has for practitioners.

The Good Life and Leisure Services

What do people need to know to pursue the good life, and what roles do leisure service providers have in maximizing people's enjoyment? Nearly 2,500 years ago, Plato taught that one of the most important things people could learn was how foolish it was to run away from leisure by working too much (Hunnicutt, 1990). Other lessons from Plato's academy had to do with choosing the "right things" to do with leisure. These right things were described by the word eudaimonia, which meant "living well." Living well was the exercise of moral virtue and excellence of character through engaging in activities that had no end apart from themselves (i.e., intrinsic motivation) (Ackrill, 1997). Therefore, one approach leisure service providers can take is to educate people that the good life can be one in which a person doesn't work excessively and uses freedom to seek activities that promote excellence of character and provide intrinsic satisfaction. We are all in the "business" of leisure education, and Americans can ostensibly benefit by reflecting on how making time to pursue intrinsically satisfying activities can increase their life satisfaction.

Happiness, Subjective Well-Being and Intrinsic Motivation

Many psychologists have examined aspects of happiness and subjective well-being (Argyle, 1987; Myers, 2000; Parducii, 1995; Strack, Argyle & Schwartz, 1991). Some researchers have attempted to measure the emotional side of happiness, including being in a good mood, while others have attempted to measure the cognitive-reflective side associated with quality of life. A person's overall satisfaction seems to be a general factor associated with happiness.

Happiness occurs in various ways, and it's often seen as a reflection of satisfaction with life. Happiness, however, may also be found in full engagement in the present through involvement in creative endeavors, or may occur in repose or quite peacefulness. To become happy, one needs to open oneself to the delights of pleasure and the many wonderful things to enjoy in the world, such as food, art, poetry, music, science and adventure. These pleasures extend beyond the physical to include an expansive view of life-enjoying many things-and cultivating one's tastes (Kurtz, 1998). Subjective wellbeing offers a way of understanding people's happiness and many of the other intrinsic factors associated with life and leisure.

Ryan and Deci (2000) proposed that what constitutes a good life is people thinking they're living good lives. …

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