Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Routine and Project-Based Leisure, Happiness, and Meaning in Life

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Routine and Project-Based Leisure, Happiness, and Meaning in Life

Article excerpt


More than 60 years ago, Victor Frankl attributed a notable increase in diagnosed neuroses to a lack of meaning in life. His position was summed up in the now famous quote, " . . .people have enough to live by, but nothing to live for; they have the means, but no meaning" (Frankl, 2006, p. 140). This statement comes as no surprise to those who specialize in the fields of psychology and human development. Increases in wealth and intelligence, two popular indicators of progress, have done little to influence general happiness and well-being (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999; Flynn, 1998). Ten percent of Americans now have mood disorders, and major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the US forl5- to 44-yearolds (WHO, 2004). If Frankl is correct in asserting that meaning and happiness dwell together, then life purpose is not just the culmination of a hierarchy of fulfilled needs (Maslow, 1954), but the driving force behind a life of thriving. While meaning and happiness may emerge from a variety of circumstances, leisure pursuits consistently rank high on the list of facilitators (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The term "leisure" may apply to any number of activities undertaken during free time and/or for their own sake (Godbey, 2007). An understanding of how the type and duration of leisure activities influence happiness and meaning would allow for a more prescriptive program design, guiding leisure programmers and participants toward purposeful living.

Literature Review

The Will to Meaning

Frankl's innovative branch of therapy, Logotherapy, is based on the principle that humans are primarily motivated by a search for meaning and purpose. This theory is juxtaposed to Nietzsche's "Will to Power" and to Freud's "Will to Pleasure." While security, efficacy, and enjoyment may motivate us to act in certain situations, an underlying sense of purpose drives us to persevere through even the most difficult times. Life meaning, though defined in a variety of ways, is consistently regarded as vital to thriving. Meaning in life has been tied to greater work enjoyment, life satisfaction, and happiness (Bonebright, Clay, & Ankenmann, 2000; Chamberlain & Zika, 1998; Débats, van der Lubbe, & Wezeman, 1993). Individuals that report a lack of life purpose also report a greater need for therapy (Battista & Almond, 1973), higher levels of depression and anxiety (Débats et al., 1993), and suicidal ideation and substance abuse (Harlow, Newcomb, & Bentler, 1986). It is reasoned that a lack of meaning leads to psychological distress, which is manifested in a variety of neuroses.

There is no abstract, universal meaning that applies to everyone's life. Meaning must be found individually within the present moment, and can be facilitated by: (a) creating a work or doing a deed, (b) experiencing someone or something powerful, or (c) the attitude we take to unavoidable suffering (Frankl, 2006). Recent research has identified similar antecedents to meaning, including the pursuit of important goals, the development of a coherent life narrative, and self-transcendence (Kenyon, 2000, Seligman, 2002). A meaningful life can help to fend off depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies, thus paving the way for happiness and life satisfaction to emerge (Debats et al., 1993; Harlow et al., 1986). Such is the basis of the Positive Psychology movement, which endeavors to "improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless" (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 5).


The quest for happiness is universal and as old as human existence. The ancient Greeks considered happiness the only true end worth seeking (Aristotle, 1996). In the US, the pursuit of happiness is considered a fundamental human right. Bhutan has identified "Gross National Happiness" as their primary indicator for national progress (cf. grossnationalhappiness. …

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