Casual Leisure

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Casual leisure is an immediately, intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-lived, pleasurable core activity, requiring little or no special training to enjoy it. It is fundamentally hedonic, pursued for its significant level of pure enjoyment, or pleasure. The termed was coined by Robert A. Stebbins (1982) in a conceptual statement about serious leisure, which depicted its casual counterpart as all activity not classifiable as serious. As a scientific concept casual leisure languished in this residual status, until Rojek (1997) and Stebbins (1997; 2001) belatedly recognized its centrality in leisure studies. Stebbins sought to elaborate the idea as a sensitizing concept for exploratory research, as he had earlier for the idea of serious leisure.

Types of casual leisure

Casual leisure, compared with serious leisure, is considerably less substantial and offers no leisure career. These two qualities are evident in the eight types of casual leisure so far discovered:

• Play (including dabbling, dilettantism)

• Relaxation (e.g., sitting, napping, strolling)

• Passive entertainment (e.g., through TV, books, recorded music)

• Active entertainment (e.g., games of chance, party games)

• Sociable conversation (e.g. gossip, “idle chatter”)

• Sensory stimulation (e.g., sex, eating, drinking, sightseeing)

• Casual volunteering (e.g., handing out leaflets, stuffing envelopes)

• Pleasurable aerobic activity

These types, primarily because they are so familiar, need no further explanation, with the exception of the last one. Pleasurable aerobic activity, the most recent addition to this list of types (Stebbins, 2004), refers to physical activities that require effort sufficient to cause marked increase in respiration and heart rate. “Aerobic activity” refers in the broad sense to all activity that calls for such effort, which to be sure, includes the routines pursued collectively in (narrowly conceived of) aerobics classes and those pursued individually by way of televised or video-taped programs of aerobics. Yet, as with its passive and active cousins in entertainment, pleasurable aerobic activity is, at bottom, casual leisure. That is, to do such activity requires little more than minimal skill, knowledge, or experience. Examples include such children’s games as tag and hide-and-seek and adult fitness activities made enjoyable by riding an exercise bike or running on a treadmill while inspired to greater effort by Wii Fit or Sony’s PlayStation 2. It is likely that people pursue the eight types of casual leisure in combinations of two and three at least as often as they pursue them separately. For instance, every type can be relaxing, producing in this fashion play-relaxation, passive entertainment-relaxation, and so on. Various combinations of play and sensory stimulation are also possible, as in experimenting with drug use, sexual activity, and thrill seeking in movement.

Benefits and costs of casual leisure

Given the penchant, observed particularly in health-promotion circles, to malign casual leisure as too sedentary and mindless, it is important to note its benefits and thereby give a more balanced account of its value as a main form of leisure. These include serendipitous creativity and discovery in play; regeneration from earlier intense work or leisure activity; and development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships (Kleiber, 2000; Hutchinson & Kleiber, 2005; Stebbins 2001). Well-being is still another benefit that can flow from engaging in casual leisure. Possibly the greatest sense of well-being we may experience comes when we develop an optimal leisure lifestyle. Such a lifestyle is “the deeply satisfying pursuit during free time of one or more substantial, absorbing forms of serious leisure, complemented by a judicious amount of casual leisure” (Stebbins, 2000). Here casual leisure plays a crucial role in helping preserve balance in daily living. Some of the costs of casual leisure spring from its excessive pursuit, a well known example of which being people who spend all or nearly all of their non-work time watching entertainment television. A related cost is the boredom people experience when they have large blocks of free time but only uninteresting casual leisure to do in those periods. Another cost becomes evident for those who pursue casual leisure so exclusively that they lack of time for fulfilling serious leisure activities. A further cost is that casual leisure is, by its very nature, incapable of generating a distinctive leisure identity.

Casual leisure research

There is a mountain of research on casual leisure, in general, and on seven of its eight types, in particular (pleasurable aerobic activity has never been empirically examined). Yet very little of this research has been oriented by the serious leisure perspective (see Citizendium article), of which casual leisure is a central part. Kerr, Fujiyama, and Campano’s (2002) comparative study of serious and hedonic leisure sport activities were the first to intentionally study free time activity from this Perspective. According to the Perspective’s website (see its URL below in Resources), 14 more studies have been conducted since (calculated to March 2009). This shows an admirable rate of interest from the point in time – 2001 – when the conceptual nature of casual leisure had been clarified sufficiently to stimulate empirical work on it. The work that has been done tells us that this form of leisure has a distinctive role to play in our free time, and that this role should never be lost sight of as we consider the other two forms (serious leisure, project-based leisure).


Hutchinson, S.L., & Kleiber, D.A. (2005). Gifts of the ordinary: Casual leisure’s contributions to health and well-being. World Leisure Journal, 47(3), 2-16.

Kerr, J.H., Fujiyama, H., & Campano, J. (2002). Emotion and stress in serious and hedonistic leisure sport activities. Journal of Leisure Research, 34, 272-289.

Kleiber, D.A. (2000). The neglect of relaxation. Journal of Leisure Research, 32, 82-86.

Rojek, C. (1997). Leisure theory: Retrospect and prospect. Loisir et Société/Society and Leisure, 20, 383-400.

Stebbins, R.A. (1982). Serious leisure: A conceptual statement. Pacific Sociological Review, 25, 251-272.

Stebbins, R.A. (1997). Casual leisure: A conceptual statement. Leisure Studies, 16, 17-25.

Stebbins , R. A. (2000). Optimal leisure lifestyle: Combining serious and casual leisure for personal well-being. In M. C. Cabeza (Ed.), Leisure and human development: Proposals for the 6th World Leisure Congress. (pp. 101-107). Bilbao, Spain: University of Deusto.

Stebbins, R.A. (2001). The costs and benefits of hedonism: Some consequences of taking casual leisure seriously. Leisure Studies, 20, 305-309.

Stebbins, R.A. (2004). Pleasurable aerobic activity: A type of casual leisure with salubrious implications. World Leisure Journal, 46(4), 55-58.


The Serious Leisure Perspective --