Americans look forward to a variety of things. While one might guess that it would include travel to exotic locations or seeing the latest movie, by far the most alluring possibility is the simplest: getting a good night of sleep! Seven out of ten adults (71%) said they look forward “a lot” to having a refreshing snooze. That’s one of the results from a newly released nationwide survey of 1005 adults conducted by The Barna Group.
And the experience that Americans dread the most? Filling out their tax forms. Just one out of every ten adults (11%) said they look forward to that activity.
The Best and Worst of Times
In addition to getting a good night of sleep, spending time with friends (mentioned by 55%) and listening to music (54%), were the only other activities that enthused a majority of adults from among the 17 possibilities that were offered to survey respondents.
The least appealing activities, besides completing tax forms, included having a physical examination by a doctor (14%) and going shopping for clothing (16%).
The ranking of the items examined might surprise people. For instance, the fourth most appealing activity was attending church services, which 40% said they look forward to. In fact, further confirming that religion is “hot” right now, Americans were more likely to say they look forward to reading the Bible (31%) than to look forward to reading a novel for pleasure (25%). And the fact that shopping for clothing was ranked by women fifteenth out of the 17 options conflicts with the venerable stereotype.
The attraction of the media was also evident. Two out of every three adults (68%) said that they look forward to watching TV, listening to music, or seeing a movie. This was especially common among young adults: three-quarters of those 18 to 22-years-old (76%) mentioned at least one of those options as compelling. Overall, one out of every ten adults listed all three media as things they looked forward to a lot.
You Will Know Them by Their Deeds
Various population groups reflected their unique spin on life through their choice of favored activities.
- Mosaics (ages 18 to 22) led the pack in looking forward to movies and music. They were also more interested than were others in spending time with friends, shopping for clothing, eating at restaurants, engaging in sports or exercise, and discussing religion with friends.
- Baby Busters (ages 23 through 41) were far more drawn to visiting far away places and were also highly motivated to cook meals. They were the least likely to want to discuss religious matters with others.
- Baby Boomers (ages 42 through 60) were among those who most cherished time working on their yard.
- People older than 60 were by far the most attracted to church services (60%, compared to the national average of 40% who looked forward to attending); reading the Bible (45%, versus the national norm of 31%); watching television; and having a physical exam by their doctor. The fact that one of out every five senior citizens looks forward to a physical exam “a lot” may be the clearest demonstration of how people’s priorities change with age.
- The Bible Belt still lives. Despite an erosion of religious fervor in the southern states over the past quarter century, the survey showed that residents of the South were considerably more likely than other Americans to look forward to attending church services and to reading the Bible. (They were marginally more likely to be excited about discussing spiritual matters with other people.)
- White adults stood out as the ethnic group most excited about reading novels, spending time with friends, and eating at restaurants. In contrast, African-Americans were most likely to look forward to all of the faith-related options (attending church, reading the Bible, discussing religion), as well as watching television and cooking meals at home. Hispanics topped the list in terms of desiring to listen to music and shop for clothing.
The Faith Filter
People of different faith orientations also had diverse profiles. Evangelicals emerged as the group that had the most polarized interests. Evangelicals were the faith segment that was most likely to look forward to attending church, reading the Bible, discussing their faith, spending time with friends, eating in a restaurant, and participating in sports or exercise. But they were also the faith segment least likely to look forward to cooking at home, working on their yard, being examined by a doctor, and watching movies. Evangelicals, as defined and measured by The Barna Group, represent 8% of the U.S. adult population.
When all born again adults are compared with those who are not born again, the only two differences are that the born again contingent is more interested in participating in the faith-related opportunities, and they are more interested in getting a good night of sleep.
Atheists and agnostics, who comprise about one-tenth of the population, were not only disinterested in any of the faith-related activities tested, but they were also the least likely to look forward to spending time with friends.
Adults who are associated with faiths other than Christianity – about one out of every sixteen people – were far more likely than others to look forward to watching movies, and somewhat more likely to appreciate reading a novel. They were significantly less likely to look forward to attending religious services or to go shopping for clothing.
What People’s Hopes Suggest
The fact that tens of millions of Americans dream about having a good night of sleep is indicative of the lifestyle people lead, according to the study’s director.
“Among the most common complaints people have are the struggle to cope with the busyness of their lives, the pressure of family and job responsibilities, and their seemingly unquenchable thirst to be entertained,” commented George Barna. “It’s interesting that people who have young children in their home were no more likely to want a good rest than were people without children in the house. The issue is not the presence or absence of children; it’s how we choose to fill our schedule, the development and implementation of boundaries in our lives, and our willingness to forego some pleasures in favor of physical and mental health. We’re not busy because somebody makes us busy and stressed; we’re that way because we have not learned to say ‘no’ to appealing opportunities, or to accept the notion that we do not need every experience that’s accessible. We voluntarily exhaust ourselves and then wonder why life doesn’t seem satisfying. This is one reason why God instituted a day of rest, rather than a day for catching up or gorging on pleasurable activities.”
Barna also noted that the nature of what people look forward to changes as people move through different life stages. “Young adults are seeking fun and relational experiences. During middle age, people are more likely to focus on self-examination and personal development. At the end of the trail, adults return to the simpler joys of life, like gardening, reading and considering their next phase of existence. There does seem to be a season for everything.”
The data in this report are based on interviews with 1005 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, during July 2006, based upon a random sample of people 18 years of age and older living within the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In the research, the distribution of survey respondents corresponded to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization that conducts primary research on a wide range of issues and products, produces resources pertaining to cultural change, leadership and spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Additional research-based resources, both free and at discounted prices, are also available through that website.
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.
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