Freedom to explore the self: How emerging adults use leisure to develop identity


identity, emerging adult, leisure, free time, flourishing


During a period of newly attained freedom preceding commitments expected in adulthood, emerging adults are faced with the major task of identity development. Leisure provides a context with relative freedom wherein emerging adults explore new experiences and access opportunities not always available in more constrained environments like work and school. In this case study of 40 emerging adults from 18 countries (Mage = 23.14 years), qualitative interviews were used to investigate the role of leisure as a context for identity development. Results indicate five major themes for leisure-based identity development in emerging adulthood: discovering identity, forming identity, defining identity, positioning identity, and forgoing opportunities. These themes support leisure as an additional context wherein emerging adults may flourish on the pathway toward adulthood. Access to both novel and familiar leisure provide a context for emerging adults to actively direct their identity development through decisions made in leisure time.

Original Publication Citation

*Layland, E., Hill, B., & Nelson, L. J. (2018). Freedom to explore the self: How emerging adults use leisure to explore identity. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13, 78-91.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



The Journal of Positive Psychology




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor