Leisure and recreation belong to the most significant parts of the human life alongside with the professional activity and family functions. However, if one can precisely identify what he or she implies saying “professional activity,” they cannot be so sure when defining the notion of “free time” since it is inextricably linked to the multiple individuals’ interests. Nevertheless, it is obvious that people aspire to devote their spare time to something that brings them enjoyment and satisfaction, and each man receives pleasure from diverse sources since all the people are different. One can need 20 hours of sound sleep while another is extremely active to feel the fullness of life. As a result, the first “calm” group, most likely, will not call the actions of the second one as leisure. Because of this individual human factor, a lot of life’s activities are rather controversial in terms of their belonging to the recreation. That is why it is no surprise that volunteering that implies working based on good will and without financial rewarding is among those debatable issues. Thus, the paper seeks to explore whether volunteering could be identified as leisure by the means of analyzing the main concepts and their practical aspects of the notion under consideration.
To find out whether one idea could be considered as a part of the other, one should determine essential features of the major concept and, then, examine the controversial phenomena for their presence. Such principle of comparing has been applied in the given research in order to provide logical structuring of the gathered data. Thus, the most characteristic points of the notion of “leisure” will be underlined in the first part of the paper. Later, the peculiarities of volunteering will be presented alongside with referring to the theoretical concept of “recreation” emphasizing their common or distinctive features.
The Discussion of the Notion of “Leisure”
When anybody asks about the meaning of leisure, free time is the first answer that comes to mind. Although it is partially right treatment, it is not complete and represents only the quantitative side of the concept. People, indeed, can allow themselves to enjoy the things or activities they like only when they have time free of professional or social obligations. It is the reason for such a definition, and the simplest characteristics one can identify at once. However, the concept of leisure is a much broader and inextricably linked to the quality of that spare time.
In the majority of the life cases, the kind of the leisure activity is determined by the people’s aspiring to the intrinsic happiness as Aristotle assumes. Considering that development is the primary task of human existence, each area of their living is under the influence of the subconscious desire to meet internal ethical and moral challenges, reassess or strengthen personal identity, find actual knowledge, inspiration or reasoning. Leisure is not exclusion but the most favorable area for progressive growth as it allows people choose the developmental direction by themselves regardless of financial rewarding or any other forcing circumstances and follow it with the maximum of pleasant feelings. It may seem that such an assumption is mostly about leisure as the kind of vigorous activity; however, even passive observation, reading or thinking are often aimed at self-knowledge and self-actualization. Thus, feminists rightfully define “leisure” as “meaningful experience characterized by enjoyment”. If to consider that this act leads to the moral, intellectual and spiritual growth, one can admit that mentioned theories are similar to the Roman writers’ suggestions. It means that the primary feature of leisure has remained unchangeable for centuries except for relatively minor variations influenced by the social transformations. Thus, if to summarize, the distinguishing characteristics of leisure are the following: the activities being undertaken during free time and beyond any obligations, the presence of goodwill and enjoyment, transformational experience, the improvement of the human well-being, restoration of vitality and physical and emotional life energies. It should be stated that the list of distinctive points is not limited to the mentioned ones; however, these are basic and relatively stable criteria. They are used for the further examination of the phenomena of volunteering to check if it belongs to the leisure or work activity.
The Discussion of Volunteering
Volunteering as social phenomena is rather interesting for investigating as it has dual controversial nature being on the edge of leisure and work. From the very beginning, it has been based on the people’s will to change the usual course of things through personal implication in the form of unrewarded activity. In particular, it could be best observed in the post-war period, in the late 1950s and 1960s, when it became recognized as the most efficient form of international development. Volunteers were involved in the infrastructure restoring of the ruined territories that may be considered as hard work. At the same time, they also implemented the promotional programs aimed at spreading peace concepts that can be characterized as a process of self-expression or leisure activity. Such duality has been mirrored in the classification of the kinds of volunteerism, and the attempts to join the volunteers’ efforts have given birth to the numerous organizations managed by the so-called ambassadors of goodwill. Thus, two types of volunteering – formal or organizational and informal – have appeared. Today, there are more than 20 organizations in Canada being a part of the international volunteer movement such as Uniterra, Engineers Without Borders, Global Youth Action Network, Students for Development Program, YMCA and Free the Canadian Youth Volunteering Abroad Children.
Taking into account that these institutions are making all possible efforts to involve more volunteers into their activity and try to create a wide range of various privileges for their members, organizational volunteering often is not perceived as leisure. Volunteer tourism is one of the brightest samples of this as it involves the elements of both pleasure and work being different from conventional forms of tourism and traditional volunteering. Apparently, in that type of organizational volunteers’ activity, one can find features inherent to the concept of leisure such as self-motivation and being guided by a self-developed mission for the ultimate gratification of the higher intrinsic need for self-actualization as well as enjoyment and tangible, useful experience. The study in the areas of volunteer tourism has showed that seventy-five percent of cross-cultural encounters have served as a significant transformational adventure to the respondents. At the same time, being involved in this kind of cooperation demands from volunteers a high level of responsibility alongside with reaching delight and self-development. That is why the organizational managers could not avoid establishing a set of obligations for tourist volunteers to protect company’s image on the international market. Here is the line for balance or “balancing act” between the work and leisure compliance to which predetermines the belonging of organizational volunteering either to the leisure or work area.
The situation with the informal volunteering seems to be clearer as it does not imply any obligations with regard to the third participants besides volunteer and recipient of help. Many students provide law coursework help in this area. Moreover, it also is often interpreted as the activity prior to the professional ones if speaking about youth’s volunteering, or retirement activity if considering the elderly volunteers. However, in response to this fact, one can use statistic data of Canada showing that people in their late years volunteer at the lowest rate that amounts to nearly 18%. On the other hand, the youth participates in the activity more actively, but this indicator remains below the rate of middle-aged persons if to analyze the official data. At the same time, the rate of volunteering youth may be a little reduced due to the presence of the obligatory voluntarism. In some states of the United States of America, Ontario for example, the government requires students to devote 40 hours to volunteering as a prerequisite for their graduation. Thus, one can see that in Canada, volunteering is a prerogative of the middle-aged individuals who are still active in their workplaces, family lives, friendships, and taking care of their child or aged parents. Apparently, they do the activity in their free time that is the first feature of leisure but the question is whether other characteristics are of the concept of leisure can be observed. The psychologists suggest that the midlife is the period when individuals have already gained deep knowledge, numerous skills and abilities that they apply in their daily living to feel the fullness of life or express themselves by the means of the social involvement. Here, one can see one more distinctive feature of the notion of leisure that is the self-actualization. Considering that the time of the middle age is also the one of high stress risk, the volunteering may be the way to compensate the negative tendencies in the cognitive development restoring emotional balance.
There are numerous benefits of participating in the activity under consideration. According to the study that has investigated 746 Swiss workers through the online survey, people involved in volunteering are associated with the better positive mental health and life balance. Moreover, they also demonstrate lower rates of conflicting and stress than those who have no experience of being the volunteer. Another research has been based on the data of the National Survey of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) and has revealed the fact that volunteering enhances eudemonic (that means purpose and balance in life) and social (implying the feeling of belonging to the community) well-being. It leads to the conclusion that volunteers are more satisfied with their living, and it is possible to assume that the activity brings enjoyment and pleasure for them. Taking into account that only self-sufficient person is able to show positive tendencies, voluntarism is a way to self-confidence that demonstrates its belonging to leisure. Nevertheless, in both researches authors admit that there is the other side of the results they have got that can be considered as the limitations of the studies. They suppose that only self-confident, satisfied and experienced people can volunteer, and this fact can predetermine the results of their explorations. In addition, one can claim that the consequences of the activity for the individual’s well-being are quite relative, and the recipient of help may demonstrate extremely unexpected individual aftermath.
In conclusion, despite the evident presence of the majority of the features of leisure in the volunteering, it is worth to admit that it could not be fully considered as leisure. None of the things lying on the cross-roads of multiple diverse areas of the activities and plethora of the disciplines could be identified precisely. Any minor deviation in one or another direction means the change of notions and effects. That is why volunteering could be identified as leisure only if the balance concerning interplaying between all the features of the concept is saved.