Happy campers? The relationships between leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness.

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Date: Nov. 2019
Publisher: Scientific Journal Publishers, Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,945 words
Lexile Measure: 1430L

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We examined the mediating role of serious leisure in the relationship between leisure functioning and happiness with data from 284 Korean campers, analyzed primarily using structural equation modeling. Results showed that the campers' leisure functioning had a positive effect on serious leisure, and serious leisure had a positive effect on happiness. Further, the leisure functioning of the campers had an indirect impact on their happiness through the mediator of serious leisure. The findings showed that serious leisure plays an important role in perceived happiness in the camping context. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.


leisure functioning; serious leisure; happiness; camping; subjective well-being; leisure activity

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Camping is an emerging leisure activity in Korea in that the number of camping sites has risen from 1,126 in 2012 to 2,281 in 2019 (Korea Tourism Organization, 2019), indicating a rapid increase in interest and demand. Camping is an outdoor activity for individuals motivated by a desire for spending time away from high-rise buildings and busy city life (Brooker & Joppe, 2013; Morrow, Rodriguez, & King, 2014; Pretty, Peacock, Sellens, & Griffin, 2005). Most Koreans' daily lives involve an automated and complex urban environment. As work--life balance has become a social phenomenon in Korea (Korea Ministry of Employment and Labor, 2018; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2015), camping can be considered a leisure activity that leads to a healthy and happy life.

The well-being that is experienced through camping, as a form of green exercise, enhances emotional connections and positive interactions among campers (Morrow et al., 2014; Pretty et al., 2005). Leisure activities, such as camping, enrich personal freedom, promote positive self-development and social relationships, and improve quality of life and happiness (J. Kim, Heo, Lee, & Kim, 2015; Morrow et al., 2014). Further, the extent to which an individual systematically pursues a specific leisure activity (i.e., serious leisure) is influenced by the perceived value and quality of that leisure activity (i.e., leisure functioning) and influences the level of perceived happiness (J. Kim et al., 2015). In Korea, as there is a high level of urbanization (82% living in urban areas), and high population density (513 people/[km.sup.2]), 75.6% of Koreans inhabit multidwelling units, such as high-rise apartment buildings and mixed-use buildings, most of which lack green spaces (Statistics Korea, 2018). Thus, we investigated the causal relationships between leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness among campers.

Literature Review and Hypothesis Development

Leisure Functioning

Leisure functioning is the ability to truly enjoy the quality of leisure during personal leisure time (S. H. Kim, 2010). It can be also defined as "how an individual feels about his or her experiences and the kind of outcome that results from these experiences" (Ponde & Caroso, 2003, p. 73). In the current study, we operationalized leisure functioning as perceived freedom in the leisure activity of camping, which involves leisure needs, playfulness, perceived leisure control, and perceived leisure competence (Link & Williams, 2017; Witt & Ellis, 1984).

Baek and Shim (2011) claimed that leisure experience indirectly influences continued participation through the mediator of leisure functioning, and leisure functioning has an indirect effect on continued participation through the mediator of flow experience. Cho and Kim (2007) stated that the positive experience of leisure activities leads to continued engagement in leisure and higher life satisfaction. Overall, it has been found (J. Kim et al., 2015; Morrow et al., 2014) that higher leisure functioning leads to greater leisure involvement (i.e., serious leisure) and subjective well-being (i.e., happiness).

Serious Leisure

Serious leisure is defined as "the systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist, or volunteer activity that participants find so substantial and interesting that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a [leisure] career centered on acquiring and expressing its special skills, knowledge, and experience" (Stebbins, 1992, p. 3). It comprises six qualities: perseverance, career development, significant effort, durable benefits, unique ethos, and strong identification (Stebbins, 1992).

M. L. Kim, Kim, and Gwon (2012) examined the relationships between recreation specialization, leisure satisfaction, and subjective happiness, and found that serious leisure is a moderator. In addition, Lee and Kim (2011) found that serious leisure both directly and indirectly influences subjective happiness, and also positively influences the level of recreation specialization. Causal relationships between leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness have, thus, been found in previous studies, along with the specific finding that serious leisure is influenced by leisure functioning (e.g., leisure needs) and can influence perceived happiness (Chung, 2015; S. H. Park, 2010).


Happiness is defined as "the degree to which an individual evaluates the overall quality of his or her life-as-a-whole positively" (Veenhoven, 1984, p. 22). H. H. Kim (2013) proposed that the purpose of an individual's leisure participation is the pursuit of happiness, that is, leisure participants experience positive emotions and moods, such as joy, during leisure activities (Hills & Argyle, 1998; Wankel & Berger, 1990). Lee and Kim (2011) also showed that college students' long-term participation in serious leisure has a positive effect on their happiness. In addition, Lu and Hu (2005) and Spiers and Walker (2008) found that happiness through leisure participation is a key factor in determining participants' quality of life.

Hypothesis Testing

Previous researchers have found associations between leisure, serious leisure, and happiness (H. H. Kim, 2013; Lu & Hu, 2005). Because leisure activities are voluntary, participation is a choice that determines an individual's involvement in leisure and also their life enjoyment. Positive leisure functioning in camping is not usually just a one-off experience but, rather, encourages continued participation as serious leisure. As Koreans increasingly seek recuperation in green spaces in the pursuit of happiness, it is important to examine camping and the happiness that campers derive from it, to understand their leisure behavior. Therefore, we investigated the relationships between the factors of leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness among campers.

Specifically, we anticipated that campers with higher leisure functioning (e.g., more leisure needs or greater perceived leisure competence) would be more likely to pursue camping as a serious leisure activity (see Cho & Kim, 2007). Further, leisure functioning has been found to have a negative relationship with subjective ill-being, such as depression, and a positive relationship with subjective well-being, such as life satisfaction (Link & Williams, 2017). Thus, we expected that campers with higher leisure functioning would enjoy greater happiness from experiencing camping activities. Campers' serious leisure behavior will also likely promote a better quality of life and greater subjective well-being, including a higher degree of happiness (J. Kim et al., 2015; Ponde & Caroso, 2003). Therefore, we proposed the following hypotheses: Hypothesis 1: Leisure functioning will have a positive effect on serious leisure.

Hypothesis 2: Serious leisure will have a positive effect on happiness.

Hypothesis 3: Leisure functioning will have a positive effect on happiness through the mediator of serious leisure.



Data were collected from adult campers in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, Korea. We distributed 300 surveys to the chosen groups using convenience sampling with a nonrandom sampling technique. After eliminating incomplete responses from 16 campers, our final sample comprised 284 participants. Their general characteristics are shown in Table 1.


Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the home institution of the second author. We performed confirmatory factor analysis using Amos 18.0, and used goodness-of-fit criteria to assess the structural equation modeling results (Bentler, 1990). The measurement model fit the data quite well, [chi square](74) = 1.26, comparative fit index (CFI) = .96, Tucker--Lewis Index (TLI) = .95, root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) = .048.


Participants rated all items on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree. The survey items that were originally written in English were translated into Korean using a systematic translation--back-translation approach (Brislin, 1970). First, two experts in leisure studies individually translated the original items into Korean. A final draft of a Korean version was completed after comparing and adjusting any discrepancies between the two drafts. Second, two other experts independently back-translated the Korean version into two English versions. Last, we compared the two back-translated English versions with the original items to ensure conceptual equivalency. A panel of experts, including leisure studies researchers, checked the validity of the survey items. We conducted a pilot study (N = 89) to check the content validity and the reliability of the scales, and Cronbach's alpha and normality test results met the accepted criteria.

Leisure functioning. To measure leisure functioning we used the Korean version (Kwon, Yeo, & Kim, 2013) of the 12-item Leisure Diagnostic Battery (Witt & Ellis, 1984), which comprises four subfactors: control, absorption, competence, and leisure desire. A sample item is "I can make good things happen when I do recreation activities."

Serious leisure. We used Tsaur and Liang's 19-item measure (2008) to assess six qualities of serious leisure: benefits, personal effort, career specialization, ethos, perseverance, and identity. A sample item is "I devote considerable effort and time to taking part in my leisure activity."

Happiness. We used Lyubomirsky and Lepper's (1999) four-item measure to assess campers' happiness. A sample item is "In general, I consider myself a very happy person."


Structural Equation Modeling

We used structural equation modeling to evaluate the relationships between leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness. Leisure functioning was the exogenous variable and serious leisure and happiness were endogenous variables. Results indicate that the model had an adequate fit to the data (Bentler, 1990), [chi square](74) = 1.37, CFI = .95, TLI = .93, RMSEA = .055.

Hypothesis Testing

As shown in Table 2, the path from leisure functioning to serious leisure was statistically significant; thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported. The path from serious leisure to happiness was also statistically significant; therefore, Hypothesis 2 was supported. However, the path from leisure functioning to happiness was not statistically significant; thus, Hypothesis 3 was not supported. Overall, the results indicate that serious leisure fully mediated the relationship between leisure functioning and happiness.

Mediation Test

We used bootstrapping analysis with a bias-corrected 95% confidence interval (CI) to investigate the mediating effect of serious leisure in the relationship between leisure functioning and happiness. Mediation is established when an indirect effect is significant and greater than a direct effect (Zhao, Lynch, & Chen, 2010). The effect of the indirect path from leisure functioning to happiness through serious leisure was statistically significant, [beta] = .441, p < .001, 95% CI [0.203, 0.584], whereas the direct effect of leisure functioning on happiness was not significant. Thus, the results confirm that serious leisure fully mediated the relationship between leisure functioning and happiness.


The pursuit of work--life balance and happiness in life is a prominent trend in Korea. As most Koreans live in high-rise apartment buildings with limited green spaces, camping plays an important role as a green exercise and therapeutic life activity because of its psychosocial and physical benefits (Morrow et al., 2014). Thus, we investigated the relationships between Korean campers' perceptions and expectations about camping (i.e., leisure functioning), their involvement in camping (i.e., serious leisure) and their perceived subjective well-being (i.e., happiness).

Leisure Functioning and Serious Leisure

We found that higher leisure functioning in camping had a positive effect on serious leisure. Campers with higher leisure needs, more playfulness from camping activities, greater leisure control, and greater leisure competence in camping were likely to engage in camping as a serious leisure activity (Beard & Ragheb, 1980; Link & Williams, 2017). Our findings support those of previous researchers. For example, Yang and Choi (2017) found that the outdoor fun and recreational value of camping (i.e., leisure functioning), influences campers' attitude toward the activity of camping (i.e., serious leisure). Lu and Argyle (1994) also reported that when people are committed to a leisure activity, their leisure becomes more controllable, absorbing, challenging, and enjoyable, and eventually leads them to serious leisure. We suggest that leisure education is necessary for campers, which aligns with the suggestion made by Dattilo (2018) that both formal and informal leisure education are important in helping people to understand the benefits of leisure activities, enhancing their competence in leisure, and developing strategies to maximize their participation opportunities in leisure.

Serious Leisure and Happiness

Our result that serious leisure had a positive effect on campers' happiness may be explained by the fact that, compared with people who invest little time and effort into learning and using camping skills, a person who invests more time in camping and more effort in learning camping skills tends to report greater enjoyment and happiness. Campers, especially those in pursuit of serious leisure, gain rewards (e.g., enhancement in self-confidence) and sense of achievement through positive outdoor camping experiences (e.g., erecting a tent, building and lighting a campfire), and occasionally coping with small challenges during camping (Stebbins, 1992).

S.-J. Park (2004) suggested that serious leisure participation can be seen as an individual's continued effort to improve and nurture their life quality. S. H. Kim and Kim (2003) stated that active sport and leisure participants pursue their happiness by taking leisure activities seriously, and that these serious leisure participants tend to specialize in their leisure. Liu and Yu (2015) also proposed that when people commit to serious and constructive leisure activities, they experience greater leisure satisfaction and happiness than do people with lower commitment. In addition, Lu and Argyle (1994) suggested that individuals' perceptions of enjoyment and challenges in a leisure activity lead to greater leisure satisfaction and, consequently, to happiness.

The six serious leisure components should be carefully considered in relation to enhancement of an individual's happiness through leisure. In the camping context, serious leisure can be strengthened when a camper builds a strong social identity, enjoys a unique social world, and realizes the various unique benefits of camping (Stebbins, 1992, 1997).

Leisure Functioning and Happiness: Serious Leisure as a Mediator

Although we found that leisure functioning did not have a direct effect on happiness when it was considered concurrently with serious leisure, leisure functioning did indirectly influence our participants' happiness through serious leisure. Previous researchers have reported mixed results concerning the influence of leisure functioning on happiness. For example, Lim, Nam, and Nam (2009) reported that specific factors of leisure functioning, such as competence, needs, and leisure control, positively influence happiness. In contrast, Lu and Argyle (1994) proposed that although an individual with more committed leisure involvement is happier, their perception of leisure does not predict happiness. Similar to our results, Chun (2008) reported that leisure functioning positively influences happiness though serious leisure and, depending on the perceived role of leisure functioning, the contribution of leisure activities to happiness varies across individuals. We can conclude from our results that the relationships of leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness are sequential, in that the leisure functioning of our camping participants influenced the level of their serious leisure, which positively influenced their happiness (Chun, 2008; J. Kim et al., 2015; Stebbins, 1992).


Camping is a popular leisure-time outdoor activity in Korea. However, few researchers have investigated the positive role of camping as a green exercise, examined what influences involvement in camping (Morrow et al., 2014), or incorporated a serious leisure perspective in the prediction of an individual's happiness (J. Kim et al., 2015). We have contributed to the literature by developing a theoretical model with a serious leisure perspective and by empirically testing the relationships between leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness. We found that serious leisure fully mediated the relationship between leisure functioning and happiness in a camping context.

Therefore, leisure administrators and marketers should produce strategies to promote the benefits of camping, eliminate leisure constraints and barriers, and provide camping-related educational programs to enhance people's perceived freedom in leisure (i.e., leisure functioning; Dattilo, 2018; Link & Williams, 2017). Managers of leisure facilities and amenities should focus on creating a positive image of camping by using leisure facilitators and affordances to develop relevant leisure-related policies (Raymore, 2002), and creating a positive social and physical atmosphere at camping sites to promote serious leisure behavior (J. Kim et al., 2015; Stebbins, 1992, 1997). Camping can then play a more important role as a green exercise and become a therapeutic activity for Koreans to enhance their subjective well-being.

Limitations and Directions for Future Research

There are several limitations in this study. We used a cross-sectional design to test the research model with data obtained from a convenience sample of campers in specific urban regions in Korea. Future researchers could investigate the conceptual model with different target populations to increase the generalizability of our findings. In addition, we could not identify the causal relationships between the variables in our model by using cross-sectional data. Thus, future researchers could conduct longitudinal studies or apply different research designs to examine these causal relationships. Although we noted a mediating role of serious leisure in the relationship between leisure functioning and happiness, other potential mediating or moderating variables, such as flow, socioeconomic status, and gender, should be considered to deepen understanding of the influence of leisure functioning and serious leisure on happiness.


This study was supported by the research fund from Honam University in 2018.


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Hyung Hoon Kim (1), Inhae Park (2), Jung-Sup Bae (3)

(1) Department of Taekwondo and Security, Honam University, Republic of Korea

(2) Department of Sport and Leisure Studies, Honam University, Republic of Korea

(3) Department of Sport Science, Hanyang University--Education Research Industry Cluster at Ansan, Republic of Korea

How to cite: Kim, H.H, Park, I., & Bae, J.-S. (2019). Happy campers? The relationships between leisure functioning, serious leisure, and happiness. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 47(11), e8270

CORRESPONDENCE Inhae Park, Department of Sport and Leisure Studies, Honam University, 417 Eodeung-daero, Gwangsan-gu, Gwangju 62399, Republic of Korea, Email: inhae220@gmail.com or Jung-Sup Bae, Department of Sport Science, Hanyang University--Education Research Industry Cluster at Ansan, 55 Hanyangdaehak-ro, Ansan, Republic of Korea, Email:bluecannon10@daum.net


Table 1. General Characteristics of Participants

Variable            Category          n    %

Camping area        Seoul              92  32.4
                    Gyeonggi          192  67.6
Gender              Men               195  68.7
                    Women              89  31.3
Age group           20s                58  20.4
                    30s and 40s       177  62.3
                    50s and above      49  17.3
Camping experience  1 to 2 years      171  60.2
                    3 to 4 years       98  34.5
                    5 years and more   15   5.3

Table 2. Hypothesis Testing Results

Hypothesis                                           Path coefficient

1 Leisure functioning [right arrow] Serious leisure  .650(0.10)
2 Serious leisure [right arrow] Happiness            .678 (0.03)
3 Leisure functioning [right arrow] Happiness        .002 (0.06)

Hypothesis                                           t

1 Leisure functioning [right arrow] Serious leisure  4.089 (***)
2 Serious leisure [right arrow] Happiness            3.671 (***)
3 Leisure functioning [right arrow] Happiness        0.016

Hypothesis                                           Results

1 Leisure functioning [right arrow] Serious leisure  Supported
2 Serious leisure [right arrow] Happiness            Supported
3 Leisure functioning [right arrow] Happiness        Not supported

Note. (***) p < .001.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A606943862