It’s a familiar word, but an increasingly unfamiliar concept. We spend gazillions of dollars on activities intended to help us relax, escape and have fun, but how much of it really is recreation?

Recreation is any activity that is capable of re-creating an internal state of peacefulness and well-being that otherwise gets diminished by the daily pressure of work and other responsibilities. You may be familiar with the Southwest Airlines commercials which ask, “Do you want to get away?” Our answer is an immediate “Yes!” But escape doesn’t necessarily equate to recreation.

I believe we have confused the word recreation with amusement. Muse, which means “to think” becomes just the opposite when the prefix “a” is added. Amusement parks like World’s of Fun or Six Flags may be exciting experiences, but as their title implies, there isn’t much thinking or “musing” happening on the Freedom Flyer going 60 MPH while hanging upside down.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good roller coaster, but does speed and thrill lead me to recreation? A good test to know whether or not an activity is recreation or amusement is to consider what it leaves you. If that cruise or vacation you thought you needed leaves you more tired, more overweight and deeper in debt, you have to admit that you would be hard pressed to call it “Recreation.”

There is a time and place for both amusement and recreation. But pure escape from life’s concerns won’t make them go away. We need to find and participate in the kinds of activity that helps us address our inner condition instead of ignoring it. This kind of lifestyle leaves something good behind and results in feeling more whole. It is then we are truly refreshed and thus better equipped to face the demands of daily life.