Leisure and Well-Being Model: Mindful Leisure


The Leisure and Well-Being model is one of the most highly regarded and often used models within the therapeutic recreation field. This model focuses on the distal goal of well-being and gives therapeutic recreation specialists a guideline of how to help facilitate the enhancement of a client’s leisure experiences, one of which is through mindful leisure. This research paper will detail the theory of mindfulness, present the connection of mindful leisure to well-being, as well as relate the use of this practice to therapeutic recreation.

Theory of Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves the use of full engagement, complete awareness, and deep attention to internal processes and external sensations, thus allowing the individual to experience each present moment in its entirety (Anderson & Heyne, 2012). The theory of mindfulness originated in eastern spiritual traditions, with roots specifically in Buddhism (Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer & Toney, 2006). Mindfulness is differentiated from normal every-day practices of attention and awareness as it involves the conscious decision to enhance these functions and place focus on the full experience of the present (Brown & Ryan, 2003).

The theory of mindfulness emphasizes the use of open awareness and attention (Brown & Ryan, 2003). This means the individual actively engages and reflects on every moment of the experience while allowing themselves to behave automatically without paying attention to their reaction (Brown & Ryan, 2003). When engaging in experiences that facilitate mindfulness, it is important that the participant focuses on the experience of the present without thought or worry about the past or future (Anderson & Heyne, 2012).

The theory of mindfulness includes 5 facets of experience: observing, describing, acting with awareness, non-reactivity to inner experience, and non-judging of inner experience (Rosini, Nelson, Sledjeski, & Dinzeo, 2017). Observing involves being completely in-tune with one’s senses, emotions, and thoughts (Rosini et al., 2017). Describing involves being able to use words to state one’s inner experiences, such as internal thought processes and feelings (Rosini et al., 2017). Acting with awareness involves complete focus of attention on the present moment (Rosini et al., 2017). Non-reactivity involves allowing one’s self to experience their thoughts and emotions without fighting against them or reacting (Rosini et al., 2017). Non-judging of the inner experience involves living each moment of the experience without bias to one’s thoughts or feelings (Rosini et al., 2017).

This theory has been researched and widely accepted as a useful practice across multiple domains of interventions such as stress management, cognitive therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and therapies to help those struggling with substance abuse (Baer et al., 2006).

Importance of Mindfulness to Living Well

Mindfulness may play an important part in achieving the goal of living well. The use of mindfulness allows individuals to enhance their attention, awareness, and emotional regulation (Rosini et al., 2017). Practicing mindfulness leads to better stress management and coping strategies when faced with challenges, allowing the individual to navigate these stressors in a more effective way (Rosini et al., 2017). When one can be present in the moment and not reflect on past or future worries, this will help achieve a positive mindset and allow the individual to deflect negative emotions or feelings (Rosini et al., 2017).

Research has shown that the use of mindfulness practice leads to reduced stress, decreased emotional distress, and overall lower occurrences of illness (Rosini et al., 2017). Those who achieve high levels of mindfulness often experience higher self esteem, a more optimistic outlook on life and experiences, increased feelings of autonomy and self assurance, and overall increased experiences of happiness (Rosini et al., 2017). Alternatively, those who maintain low levels of mindfulness have been found to experience higher occurrences of depression, anxiety, inability to regulate their emotions, and inability to facilitate positive affect (Rosini et al., 2017). The use of mindfulness practices has been linked to physical changes in the brain which control emotion regulation and stress reactivity (Khoury et al., 2013). All these changes are beneficial to living well.

Use in Leisure and Well-Being model

Mindful leisure is an integral piece of the Leisure and Well-Being model. Mindful leisure is used to help individuals enhance their leisure experiences and is a stepping stone to eventually achieve the overall goal of well-being (Hood & Carruthers, 2016).

The two most important aspects of the Leisure and Well-Being model are positive emotions, affect, and experiences on a continuous and regular basis, as well as realizing the full capabilities and strengths of an individual (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). Mindfulness plays an important part in facilitating positive emotions as it has been found that increased mindfulness leads to increased positive affect and decreased negative affect (Rosini et al., 2017). Research has suggested that the more time one spends practicing mindfulness, the more they will experience positive affect in their lives (Rosini et al., 2017). Studies have also found that mindfulness is directly linked to higher levels of life satisfaction, improved well-being, and overall health (Parcover, Coiro, Finglass, & Barr, 2018).

Being able to develop resources is also integral to achieving the goal of well-being (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). The use of mindful practices can lead to the development of cognitive, physical, psychological, social, and spiritual resources (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). By developing these resources and allowing the individual to better process their internal emotions, feelings, and thoughts, this builds towards the ultimate goal of well-being (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). Being able to self-guide one’s behaviour and achieve autonomy is a benefit of mindful practices and these skills are linked to increased well-being (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Finally, mindfulness also contributes to an individual’s vividness of their experience which leads directly to increased happiness and increased well-being (Brown & Ryan, 2003).

Enhancing Capacities to Mindfulness

Becoming more mindful largely relies on continuous and consistent practice (Young, Minami, Aguilar & Brown, 2018). Being mindful is a skill, and like most skills, the more you practice the better you become. Mindfulness skills may be enhanced through the repeated use of meditative strategies (Baer et al., 2006). Specific to leisure, mindfulness may be cultivated through activities that use formal and informal meditation, as well as meditative practices that allow for the full awareness of bodily movements and the engagement of the physical senses (Hood & Carruthers, 2016).

Practicing mindfulness can be a daily experience. This practice, as stated previously, is all about being completely engaged and fully aware of everything that is occurring in the present moment. Mindfulness may be cultivated simply by taking a few minutes of each day to allow every internal thought and feeling to flow through the body and not resisting the automatic reactions that may present themselves. Simply enjoying the moment-to-moment experience of an activity will foster mindfulness, and it is important to focus on the bodily senses (Hood & Carruthers, 2016).

Using Mindfulness in TR Practice

Mindfulness is largely used in therapeutic recreation practices and plays an important part in the therapeutic process of living one’s best life (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). As discussed previously, the use of mindful practices results in enhanced mental health and capabilities. As such, mindfulness is often used with populations that experience mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, psychiatric disorders, and mood disorders (Young et al., 2018). Studies have been done on the use of mindfulness to help people of varying ages and this practice has shown to be effective for both adults and youth (Young et al., 2018).

While mindfulness can be used in any activity or moment during the day, a therapeutic recreation specialist may facilitate mindful leisure practices in the form of informal exercises such as watching a sunset, listening to music, or knitting (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). Other activities such as drawing and the simply act of eating food can all be used as moments to demonstrate mindful practice (Young et al., 2018). While the above activities largely involve being aware and fully engaged with one’s internal processes, being mindful of one’s external senses, movements, and sensations are also in the scope of this practice. Leisure activities such as yoga and Tai Chi can be used to gain a deeper awareness of every movement on the body (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). Mindful breathing sessions are also highly used to facilitate full body awareness and engagement with the senses (Hood & Carruthers, 2016).

Therapeutic recreation specialists may find themselves working with clients who are faced with experiences in their lives that make them feel hopeless and pessimistic about their future. Mindful leisure can be used to increase an individual’s hopefulness by teaching them to recognize moments that contain hope, as well as allowing them to gain the resources needed to navigate times of hopelessness (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). Mindfulness techniques can also be used to help individuals cope with identified barriers and allow them to develop resources that will help them to work around these challenges (Hood & Carruthers, 2016).

By incorporating mindfulness into therapeutic recreation practices, this will help the individual to learn how to be fully present in the moment and therefore gain the full benefits of the leisure experience (Hood & Carruthers, 2016). The therapeutic aspect within therapeutic recreation is the use of leisure in a purposeful way to achieve one’s highest quality of life. Practicing mindfulness and increasing one’s skills in this area helps the individual to select and participate personally meaningful leisure activities that engage their senses and help them experience positive emotions, affect, and thoughts (Hood & Carruthers, 2016).


Being mindful during everyday activities and experiences is a skill that must be practiced and strengthened through repeated and consistent use. Mindfulness is achieved by allowing one’s entire self to experience a state of open awareness and full attention to all internal and external forces. Mindfulness is an intentional exercise that requires the participant to dispel all judgement and allow themselves to experience each present moment with complete acceptance. The Leisure and Well-Being model incorporates the use of mindfulness by using this practice to enhance personal leisure experiences. Mindfulness is particularly useful in facilitating positive emotions, affect, and experiences. As positive emotions, affect, and experiences are important aspects of living a life of well-being, the ability to facilitate mindful practices to clients is crucial to those working within the field of therapeutic recreation.


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