Impact Feature Issue on Supporting Wellness for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

The Flourishing Through Leisure Model:
Supporting Well-Being Through Leisure


Linda Heyne is Professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York. She may be reached at or 607/274-3050.

Lynn Anderson is Distinguished Service Professor in the Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department, State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland. She may be reached at or 607/753-4942.

Leisure is a source of well-being for many people, and a powerful force for positive change in a person’s life. Leisure offers diverse choices for participation, including arts and culture, hobbies, socializing, sports, volunteering, and nature-based activities, among many others. Through leisure, people experience positive emotions, which link directly to health and well-being (Fredrickson, 2009). Leisure can fulfill creative-expressive needs and help people derive purpose and meaning in their lives, which can lead to personal development and self-determination. Leisure also provides opportunities for social relationships, a key contributor to happiness (Seligman, 2002).

Leisure participation for the purpose of well-being is at the heart of the profession of therapeutic recreation. This article describes a practice model used in therapeutic recreation called the Flourishing through Leisure Model: An Ecological Extension of the Leisure and Well-Being Model (Anderson & Heyne, 2012). Based on the Leisure and Well-Being Model (Carruthers & Hood, 2007; Hood & Carruthers, 2007), a social model of disability, and recent discoveries in positive psychology, the Flourishing through Leisure Model follows a strengths orientation. That is, instead of developing services based on a person’s disability or deficits, services are built around the person’s unique strengths, goals, aspirations, and dreams. An ecological perspective is also used because resources in a person’s environment are important sources of support for leisure participation and strengthening well-being.

Figure 1. Flourishing through Leisure

Overview of the Model

The left side of the Flourishing through Leisure Model (see Figure 1) shows what the therapeutic recreation specialist does, and the right side shows the outcomes the participant experiences (see the labels at the bottom of the model). The interactive arrow at the bottom indicates that the therapeutic process is driven by the participant’s goals, dreams, and aspirations, a key aspect of the strengths approach.

The left half of the model looks at the person in their environment. Here, two focus areas guide the services provided by the therapeutic recreation specialist: personal strengths of the participant (represented by the image of the person) and environmental resources (represented by the image of the house). As such, the therapeutic recreation specialist helps participants enhance their experience of leisure and build internal strengths while tapping environmental resources to support the participant’s progress toward greater well-being.

The right half of the model shows the outcomes of therapeutic recreation services, depicted by a flower emerging from the rich combination of personal strengths and environmental resources. The outcomes manifest as enhanced leisure experiences and positive change across the domains of well-being. These outcomes, in which the participant experiences successful, satisfying, and productive engagement with their life, lead to a flourishing life.

The Leisure Experience

To enhance a participant’s leisure experience, the therapeutic recreation specialist facilitates the development of leisure skills and knowledge within the individual. Change within leisure environments is also facilitated to support the development of those skills and knowledge. For example, the therapeutic recreation specialist can assist participants in clarifying their leisure interests and talents, then help them find a club or other community setting where those interests and talents may be pursued. The therapeutic recreation specialist may also help the community setting become more accessible or inclusive. Further, a participant might discover he or she has the character strengths of kindness and generosity, and the therapeutic recreation specialist can help find a volunteer placement at a local agency where the individual can exercise those strengths.

When leisure experiences are enhanced, other strengths and resources develop as well, as implied by the interactive arrow that extends vertically through the leisure and well-being domains. For example, enjoyable participation in a fun run can boost a person’s physical fitness (physical domain), provide an opportunity to meet new people (social domain), and enable a person to contribute to a charitable organization (spiritual domain).

Dimensions of Well-Being

Besides leisure, the Flourishing through Leisure Model encompasses five dimensions of well-being: psychological/emotional, cognitive, social, physical, and spiritual. This section briefly describes each dimension and provides practical examples of their application using the model. In each instance, leisure is used as a context to enhance well-being. Please refer to the model for examples of personal strengths (e.g., leisure interests, interpersonal skills) and environmental resources (e.g., adapted equipment, universal design) within each dimension of well-being:

  • Psychological/emotional. Psychological and emotional strengths help us perceive the world around us, and feel and regulate a range of emotions. Someone who experiences well-being in this area would be able to experience happiness and feel in control of their life. As an example of building on personal strengths and drawing from environmental supports, a participant could increase self-awareness and cultivate calmness by participating in a community yoga or meditation class.
  • Cognitive. Cognitive strengths are those that help us think and learn. Someone who experiences cognitive well-being would be able to think in a focused way and learn eagerly. Applying the model, a participant who wishes to enhance memory could go to a crafts store and purchase materials to create a reminiscence scrapbook or go to the library to find music that triggers pleasant memories of past experiences.
  • Social. Social strengths are those that help us relate to others and belong to valued social groups. Leisure provides a natural setting for the development of social connections and community inclusion. For example, a participant who wishes to build interpersonal skills and make friends could take part in a neighborhood social club built around a common interest (e.g., reading, hiking, dancing) or join a neighborhood community center.
  • Physical. Physical strengths are those that help the participant “act” and “do” in their daily life with no barriers. Physical activity has been shown to be one of the more effective contributors to happiness and well-being (e.g., to elevate mood, reduce stress, improve cardiovascular health). A participant who wishes to gain physical fitness could join a fitness club or be matched with a walking or workout buddy.
  • Spiritual. Spirituality is defined as having strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life (Seligman, 2002). As an example in this area, a person who wishes to cultivate hope and a sense of connectedness could spend time in a nature or a wilderness area, find a faith community, or develop a regular yoga or meditation practice.


This article presents a model for how leisure can positively impact a person’s well-being across several dimensions. When optimally facilitated within the person and their environment, an enjoyable leisure experience has the power to motivate a participant toward personal well-being, fulfilling leisure, community engagement, and a flourishing life.

  • Anderson, L., & Heyne, L. (2012). Therapeutic Recreation Practice: A Strengths Approach. State College PA: Venture Publishing.

  • Carruthers, C., & Hood, C. (2007). Building a life of meaning through therapeutic recreation: The Leisure and Well-Being Model, part I. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 41(4), 276–297.

  • Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals how to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York, NY: Crown.

  • Hood, C., & Carruthers, C. (2007). Enhancing leisure experience and developing resources: The Leisure and Well-Being Model, part II. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 41(4), 298–325.

  • Peterson, M. (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York, NY: Free Press.