Where We Find Meaning in the Everyday

The American Time Use Survey asks people to log their activities for a day, and in the most recent release, people also rated the meaningfulness of the activities on a scale from 0 (not meaningful) to 6 (very meaningful). Here’s how activity categories rated, sorted by most meaningful to least meaningful. Bar height represents how relatively common it was for people to engage in an activity.

NOT MEANINGFUL

VERY MEANINGFUL

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

Caring for and Helping Non−Household Children

Religious or Spiritual Practices

Caring for and Helping Household Children

Helping Non−Household Adults

Interior Maintenance, Repair, and Decoration

Travel Related to Religious or Spiritual Activities

Socializing and Communicating

Medical and Care Services

Participating in Sports, Exercise, or Recreation

Animals and Pets

Phone Calls

Lawn, Garden, and Houseplants

Travel Related to Socializing, Relaxing, and Leisure

Eating and Drinking

Food and Drink Preparation,

Presentation, and Clean−up

Shopping

Travel Related to Caring for and Helping Household Members

Travel Related to Eating and Drinking

Household Management

Working

Travel Related to Sports, Exercise, and Recreation

Unable to Code

Exterior Maintenance, Repair, and Decoration

Travel Related to Using Professional and Personal Care Services

Housework

Travel Related to Caring for and Helping Non−Household Members

Traveling, Miscellaneous

Research or Homework

Travel Related to Consumer Purchases

Travel Related to Work

Travel Related to Household Activities

Relaxing and Leisure

Health−Related Self Care

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

SOURCE: American Time Use Survey; IPUMS

NOT MEANINGFUL

VERY MEANINGFUL

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

Caring for and Helping Non−Household Children

Religious or Spiritual Practices

Caring for and Helping Household Children

Helping Non−Household Adults

Interior Maintenance, Repair, and Decoration

Travel Related to Religious or Spiritual Activities

Socializing and Communicating

Medical and Care Services

Participating in Sports, Exercise, or Recreation

Animals and Pets

Phone Calls

Lawn, Garden, and Houseplants

Travel Related to Socializing, Relaxing, and Leisure

Eating and Drinking

Food and Drink Preparation, Presentation, and Clean−up

Shopping

Travel Related to Caring for and Helping Household Members

Travel Related to Eating and Drinking

Household Management

Working

Travel Related to Sports, Exercise, and Recreation

Unable to Code

Exterior Maintenance, Repair, and Decoration

Travel Related to Using Professional and Personal Care Services

Housework

Travel Related to Caring for and Helping Non−Household Members

Traveling, Miscellaneous

Research or Homework

Travel Related to Consumer Purchases

Travel Related to Work

Travel Related to Household Activities

Relaxing and Leisure

Health−Related Self Care

0%

20%

40%

60%

80%

100%

SOURCE: American Time Use Survey; IPUMS

Caring for and spending time with others rated highest, whereas relaxing and leisure rated lowest. Work was around the middle in the list.

Health-related self care more commonly rated as not meaningful, which seems unintuitive at first. I think it represents those with health conditions who would rather be doing something else other than tending to said condition. I’m just guessing though.

I’m most curious about relaxing and leisure showing at the bottom. This seems to make sense, because this category includes activities like watching television and thinking. At the same time, it seems like we do other things so that we can relax and leisure at the end of the day.

Notes

The estimates come from the 2021 American Time Use Survey, which included a well-being module. I downloaded the data via IPUMS. Only activities that were reported at least 50 times in the sample are included. I made the chart in R and Adobe Illustrator.

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