Countering Loneliness with Leisure

Meaningful activities can help mitigate loneliness, says therapeutic recreation Professor John Dattilo ’77 Edu, ’77 H&HD.

illustration of four people flying kites in rural setting by Richard Mia


“Loneliness can be defined as a feeling of not connecting to society in meaningful and enjoyable ways. Research shows us that increased human interaction alone does not necessarily counter loneliness or enrich our lives; we can also reduce loneliness by engaging in meaningful activities that bring enjoyment, that help us experience positive emotions.

“We define this type of experience as leisure—being able to engage in meaningful experiences that bring a sense of worth and value, that help us feel authentic. Engaging in those kinds of experiences often results in what social-psychologists identify as flow: When our skills and knowledge match the challenges of an activity, we become so absorbed by the activity that time flies. As people participate in activities that are meaningful to them, their negative psychological states tend to decrease.

“However, many people who experience loneliness also have challenges experiencing leisure; they’re unaware of what brings meaning to their lives. Our studies show there’s value in designing leisure education programs to help bring people into a state of flow. Because different recreation activities create leisure experiences for different people, there is merit in individualizing leisure education programs. Often, we work with individuals to help them identify their interests and remove barriers—social, psychological, emotional, racial, cultural, even spiritual—that prevent them from pursuing their interests. Ultimately, leisure education allows people to flourish. When this occurs, people tend to be less lonely.”