Americans are confused about leisure time, what it is, how to use it, and whether they really deserve it. While Europeans without guilt enjoy their annual August vacation season when virtually everyone takes holiday, it is unthinkable that Americans could ever free themselves for such an extravagant month-long vacation. Perhaps owing to the founding fathers' "Puritan work ethic," Americans find it hard to simply relax, enjoy, and recreate.
We want to accomplish "something" that is measurable and meaningful when we recreate.
Bringing a uniquely American achievement orientation to our leisure time, we want to accomplish "something" that is measurable and meaningful when we recreate. Futurists Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor call this the "paradox of leisure," which is the blurring between work and play. For example, if you play golf with a customer, is it work or leisure and how can you tell the difference? Today with so much of business activity directed toward leisure and entertainment, we tend to define ourselves by our favorite recreational passion or pursuit, rather than through our job or work.
For goal-oriented Americans, in particular the hard-driving affluent, luxury consumers, achieving greater self-actualization is the objective for leisure time. So they spend their free time away from work responsibilities— along with serious amounts of money—pursuing leisure to self-actualize. From yoga class to spa vacations, adventure travel to gourmet cooking classes, Americans are pursuing rest and relaxation with a vengeance.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow defined the concept of self-actualization as the pinnacle of the hierarchy of human needs, to be satisfied only after the basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. According to Maslow, self-actualization refers to "man's desire for fulfillment . . . to become everything that one is capable of becoming."
For the typical American, especially the affluent whose physical needs are completely satisfied and who have everything one could want or need, what's next? That is the ultimate challenge for marketers today. Our society is so wealthy, that even the poorest in our society partake in luxury. Where else in the world would you find those at the bottom of the income ladder owning cars, color television sets, VCRs/DVD players, airconditioning, and other luxurious "necessities" of twenty-first-century life?
Marketers and retailers that sell entertainment and recreation products primarily serve consumers' self-actualization needs, for these products have no practical purpose other than providing emotional satisfaction. But to ensure the greatest long-term success, entertainment and recreation marketers need to connect with the consumers' inner emotional lives and create new products and services to meet those needs. For today's consumer with an excess of things, achieving self-actualization, as defined by Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, is the ultimate expression of their most compelling personal desire.
Americans are pursuing rest and relaxation with a vengeance.