The Definition of Lifestyle

In recent years lifestyle has become a much-used and abused term in various fields of research. The concept is used by marketing experts to promote their products, but it also appears in scientific journals to explain and analyse human behaviours. Various theories and research variables have developed around the concept, but so far there is no unambiguous and shared definition of lifestyle. This article reexamines some of the most influential definitions of lifestyle in psychological and sociological terms, as well as from a more materialist perspective.

The internal view of lifestyle emphasises the concept’s inner dimensions and focuses on personal values, attitudes and orientations. It is considered that these determine different methods and possibilities of satisfying basic needs, such as self-realisation or the need for social recognition (see e.g. Hallin 1999).

A more external interpretation of lifestyle emphasises that lifestyle is a socially defined set of attitudes and behaviours that determines consumption patterns. This is the view that is most commonly used in scientific analyses of consumer behaviour. The concepts of lifestyle are therefore closely linked to those of consumerism and materialism (see e.g. Berger 2005).

In sociological analysis of lifestyle, the concept is often used to distinguish between class and status groups, with some overlap between the two. Weber’s sociological definition of lifestyle relates to one’s life chances, and is therefore closely connected to the concept of social stratification.

Some sociologists have emphasised that lifestyle is a dynamic process, whereby people are constantly adapting to the environment in which they live. This is illustrated by the example of a pine tree growing differently on top of a mountain than in a valley, even though it is the same type of tree. It is also a view that is often found in psychological descriptions of lifestyle.

For example, in the work of Adler (1929), lifestyle is described as an expression of personality that reflects a person’s needs, desires and abilities. It is also a view that is reflected in the personal development literature of today.

In addition, there are many theories and analyses of lifestyle at the global level. These range from analyses of the way in which the world consumer class consumes and the impact this has on the climate to studies of the links between lifestyles and national identities. Hallin (2000) has discussed this topic in the book Livsstil och miljoforskningen – Miljoforskningen och det problematiska livsstilbegreppet [The Lifestyle Problem – Environmental Research and the problematic concept of lifestyle]. This is an excellent text for anyone interested in understanding the complex relationship between consumerist lifestyles and nationalism. In short, the global level of analysis indicates that there is a real and serious problem with lifestyles and the use of natural resources and energy. Unless something changes, we will be in for a major ecological disaster. We need to make a radical change in our consumption habits and lifestyles if we want to avoid this. This requires a change in the whole mental model of society and the way we understand ourselves.