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4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 10: Culture and Leisure >> Culture, leisure and wellbeing

Culture, leisure and wellbeing

'Culture is the foundation of our progress'

World Commission on Culture and Development, UNESCO, 1996

' Increased means and increased leisure are the two civilisers of man'
Benjamin Disraeli, 1872

The culture and leisure area of concern allows us to acknowledge some inherent aspects of human nature, such as our need for identity, our creativity, history, attunement to aesthetic meaning, spirituality and our propensity for play and enjoyment. Importantly, the activities in this area do not simply add enjoyment to life - they are fundamental to human existence.1 All human societies form spiritual belief systems, compete and play games, and express themselves artistically. Story telling and music are similarly universally and inherently human. However, culture and leisure activities are also often distinguished by the life enhancement they provide. Thus, while artistic expression is apparent in every human made object, it is employed to add attraction and meaning to the material function of objects. Gardening and home decoration help make a house into a home. Family based culture and leisure activities, such as family outings, celebrations and play, add to the total family experience. Culture and leisure activities similarly enhance community cohesion and strength. Thus, where many endeavours in life are aimed firstly at meeting material needs, cultural and leisure activities are often aimed at meeting non-material needs.


INDIVIDUAL WELLBEING

The behaviour of individuals is influenced at all levels by the cultural norms and preoccupations of the society in which they live. For example, young people are influenced by 'youth culture' to dress, act and talk in particular ways. Global cultural influences are increasingly impacting on the spending patterns, expectations and moral boundaries of individuals. Activities that embody or encourage cultural influences that might be said to be positive (e.g. which reaffirm social values, healthy behaviours, or positive identity) are therefore important factors in individual wellbeing. The wellbeing of individuals may also be affected where there is dissonance between different cultures they are a part of. For example, where a young person's peer culture is in conflict with their family culture, or a migrant's background culture is different to that of the country they have come to.

Involvement in the arts affords a range of wellbeing benefits, both for those involved as creators, and those involved as audience (hence the extensive use of the arts in therapy). The process of creating art, music, poetry, dance, or other art forms allows people to express joy in life, or resolve other emotions and experiences, and to communicate their world view and inspiration to others. Receiving art - such as by watching films, dance or theatre, listening to music, viewing paintings, reading poems or novels - can also be cathartic, as it again is enjoyable and can allow fundamental emotions to be explored, understood and resolved. Films, novels, opera and other story telling media reinforce historical and moral lessons and provide continuity of awareness across generations, setting people's experiences within a broader historical and cultural context. People can become socially connected through arts activities, develop skills and contribute to the cultural identity of their community.

There is much to suggest that leisure is a precursor for self-development. As well, the psychological space associated with leisure is crucial to personal wellbeing. Leisure time gives people an opportunity to recover from work and the pressures of life, to pursue other interests and to reflect on their life direction and meaning. Many leisure activities bring direct health benefits by providing relaxation and physical activity and extending social networks. Physical and creative activity are also known to enhance scholastic and academic ability. On the other hand some leisure activities have the potential to affect wellbeing negatively, and health may be optimised when an individual is able to balance passive and active leisure.


WELLBEING OF SOCIETY

The nature of our culture determines many aspects of social life. For instance, it determines our preferred political systems, our capacity for tolerance, and our ability to adjust to technological and historical change. Thus activities that actively analyse, develop and challenge our cultural norms are crucial to social wellbeing and sustained development. For example, the self-analysis stimulated by cultural products, such as literature or film allows us to assess our social behaviour and values. New meanings generated by arts activities help us to adjust to change and to understand our society. Cultural activities, particularly heritage activities, help to accumulate, preserve and communicate the knowledge built up by society.

Both culture and leisure support the development of social and national cohesion. Family and home based leisure is instrumental in developing cohesive family functioning. Sport and other team based activities develop people's ability to cooperate, and promote personal endeavour and local and national identification. Social and community networks are often built around arts and sports activities (e.g. craft groups, sports competitions, choirs, dance groups, book reading clubs, local cinemas). The reflections of social and individual experience found in art and other forms of culture assist groups to share and integrate their life experiences.

Finally, culture and leisure industries are recognised as growth industries, and are becoming an increasingly important sector of the Australian economy.

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