We Work Too Hard at Having Fun, Says Canadian Leisure Expert Gerald Kenyon

updated 11/23/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/23/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

By most standards, sociologist Gerald Kenyon, 49, would appear to be one of those people who don't know how to relax. He puts in 60-hour workweeks, takes few vacations, has no hobbies, doesn't like TV and, he says, "Jogging doesn't interest me—I'd rather get my exercise doing something instrumental, like walking up the stairs to my office." One can only wonder why such a grind heads the Faculty of Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies at Waterloo University in Ontario.

In the last 11 years more than 50,000 people have been analyzed under Kenyon's auspices to determine how they use their nonwork time. According to the faculty's estimates, Americans and Canadians devote 39 hours a week to leisure activities, half of that to watching TV. Estimates of the U.S. leisure industry's gross range up to $300 billion a year. But, says Kenyon, the quality of leisure is too often strained: "It's more important for some people to wear the appropriate recreational clothing than for them to actually do recreational things."

In one Waterloo study, 150 adults were asked to rank leisure activities (113 were listed) in order of prestige. The top 10 were overseas travel, opera, classical concerts, ballet, dramas, flying a plane, musicals, museums, golf and sailing. Only two of those (overseas travel and golf) were considered truly enjoyable by those polled. "The more structured your leisure becomes," Kenyon observes, "the less you have control over it and the less pleasurable it becomes. Here in Canada, ice hockey leagues are highly organized, but I'm not convinced it's really a pleasurable experience for the kids."

He also notes the unhealthy effects upon older people of the forced leisure of compulsory retirement. He could take leisure suits, he says, "but now we have 'leisure counselors' and 'leisure villages.' It's all far too organized. The whole key to a positive mental outlook is to keep a certain bewilderment about the world." His prescription: Keep your leisure as unstructured and spontaneous as possible.

Kenyon's faculty, which includes such unlikely researchers in leisure as geographers (they concentrate on national parks), urban planners and medical doctors, has a $3 million annual budget, supervises instruction for some 1,200 students and houses a computerized data bank on leisure research, plus a museum of games dating from 1500 B.C. Kenyon, however, will return next year to the study that led him into leisure research: the sociology of sports.

As a boy in the small town of Penticton, British Columbia, Kenyon was a pole vaulter and an all-province basketball player. He majored in physical education at the University of British Columbia, then took a master's at Indiana and earned his doctorate at NYU. In 1961 he joined the physical education department at the University of Wisconsin and became a recruit to the new discipline of sports sociology. He moved to Waterloo in 1970.

Now converted to the sedentary life, he and wife Elisabeth, a physician, consider travel and the theater relaxing. He adds, "I experience ecstasy when I hear a particularly well-played passage of music. It can bring tears to my eyes." And he insists that he can relax with the best of them. "Four weeks' vacation is too much for me," he admits. "But for short periods of time, I don't mind doing nothing."

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