Recreation is difficult to separate from the general concept of play, which is usually the term for children’s recreational activity. Children may playfully imitate activities that reflect the realities of adult life. It has been proposed that play or recreational activities are outlets of or expression of excess energy, channeling it into socially acceptable activities that fulfill individual as well as societal needs, without need for compulsion, and providing satisfaction and pleasure for the participant. A traditional view holds that work is supported by recreation, recreation being useful to “recharge the battery” so that work performance is improved. Work, an activity generally performed out of economic necessity and useful for society and organized within the economic framework, however can also be pleasurable and may be self-imposed thus blurring the distinction to recreation. Many activities may be work for one person and recreation for another, or, at an individual level, over time recreational activity may become work, and vice versa. Thus, for a musician, playing an instrument may be at one time a profession, and at another a recreation. Similarly, it may be difficult to separate education from recreation as in the case of recreational mathematics.
Recreation is an essential part of human life and finds many different forms which are shaped naturally by individual interests but also by the surrounding social construction. Recreational activities can be communal or solitary, active or passive, outdoors or indoors, healthy or harmful, and useful for society or detrimental. A significant section of recreational activities are designated as hobbies which are activities done for pleasure on a regular basis. A list of typical activities could be almost endless including most human activities, a few examples being reading, playing or listening to music, watching movies or TV, gardening, hunting, sports, studies, and travel. Some recreational activities – such as gambling, recreational drug use, or delinquent activities – may violate societal norms and laws.
Public space such as parks and beaches are essential venues for many recreational activities. Tourism has recognized that many visitors are specifically attracted by recreational offerings. In support of recreational activities government has taken an important role in their creation, maintenance, and organization, and whole industries have developed merchandise or services. Recreation-related business is an important factor in the economy; it has been estimated that the outdoor recreation sector alone contributes $730 billion annually to the U.S. economy and generates 6.5 million jobs.