Taking it to the extreme: Retirees need to get serious about leisure

Canadians heading into retirement have much to learn from extreme sports enthusiasts, says a University of Calgary researcher who has spent decades studying what people do in their free time.

Sociology professor Robert Stebbins says the key to a great retirement is developing
a serious leisure activity-not necessarily sports-related-that brings with it
the same sense of accomplishment experienced by many extreme athletes.

"Most people think of leisure as trivial," he says. "They don’t
realize how intensely meaningful and fulfilling these activities can be."

His research has found a major difference between casual leisure-watching TV,
going out for coffee-and serious leisure, which involves becoming a kind of
expert on a topic through reading, practice or even volunteer work.

While casual leisure can be important to develop and maintain social contacts,
he says serious leisure is what brings rewards-and the extreme athletes show
just how much.

Stebbins has just published the results of a three-year study funded by the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada in a new book called
m>Challenging Mountain Nature.

By examining the mountain climbing, snowboarding and kayaking communities found
near Canmore, Alberta, Stebbins discovered that people in extreme sports aren’t
the adrenaline junkies we assume them to be.

They are simply people who take their leisure time very seriously, he says,
putting a lot of time and effort into doing something they very much enjoy.

In a nutshell, extreme sports give the people who are involved in them extreme
pleasure, says Stebbins. And that pleasure-which can be found in any serious
leisure activity-can help offset the loss of identity-and resulting depression-that
sometimes accompanies retirement.

It requires perseverance and commitment to tackle a serious leisure pursuit,
he says, but the return in time and effort is incredible.

"It’s a sense of realizing one’s own capacity," Stebbins explains.
"And you just can’t get that kind of fulfillment from sitting in a park
and watching the people go by."

For more information about SSHRC-supported research, visit the Council’s website

– News Canada