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Engaging in arts, culture and sport leads to greater satisfaction with life

Author: Daniel Wheatley and Craig Bickerton
Institution: Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University
Type of case study: Research

About the research

What impact does participating in artistic, cultural or sporting activities have on our general sense of subjective well-being? Do we need to regularly engage with art, culture and sports, or does the occassional visit to a museum or game of tennis make us feel better? How we use our leisure time is a deeply personal decision which reflects our personal perception of what is valuable, enjoyable and satisfying. Daniel Wheatley and Craig Bickerton from Nottingham Trent University used data from Understanding Society to investigate the effect of engaging with the arts, culture and sport on indivudual’s well-being.

This research uses UK subjective well-being data (SWB) to capture individual’s responses to participating in cultural and sporting activities. SWB is the person’s self-assessment of of their overall well-being and allowed the researchers to measure what individual’s value and what factors affect their well-being. The impact of participating in sport and the arts has previously been measured in economic terms, considering wealth creation and productivity, which has not captured the value of peoples happiness, relationships or health. Using SWB data allowed these non-economicimpacts to be analysed. This research considered both the overall well-being of individuals, considering their general happiness and life satisfaction, and ‘domain’ satisfaction, which considered their satisfaction with their job and leisure activities. 70 activities were included in the study, including arts events, visiting museums and historic sites and participation in sports.


The research found that there were marked differences in the level of engagement in different activities with 67.9% of people engaging with arts events and 57.7% visiting historic sites, but only 4.1% visting archives. Attending arts events, such as concerts and the cinema, was the most common activity, although there was also high engagement with arts activities that required a level of practice and commitment, such as dancing or playing a musical instrument. Engagement in sport followed a similar pattern with 58.8% of people engaged and a moderate sport and 55.4% engaged in a mild sport. Those people who participated in more intense sports, or those that required more training, played more frequently.

The analysis showed that engaging in arts activities, visiting libraries, museums and historical sites and mild sport is associated with greater life and job satisfaction. Satisfaction in the amount of leisure time a person has is also greater for those engaging in activities and there is also a positive association with general happiness. The research also found that well-being levels decrease for indivuduals who have school-age dependent children, perhaps reflecting that they have less time available to participate in leisure activities. The frequency of engagement in arts events appeared to be important to well-being, with greater life satisfaciton reported for those who take part in arts activities at least once a week. Less frequent engagement with the arts did not have the same positive benefit. However, for visits to museums of historic sites, well-being increased even though inviduals were participating in the activity three or four times a year.

Dr Wheatley commented: More passive activities like visiting historical sites and museums, and attending arts events, such as concerts or the cinema, were found to have a positive impact on satisfaction. This result occurs irrespective of regularity – suggesting that it’s quality of activity and the investment that people make, rather than quantity, which matters for many people“.

This research was informed by a consultancy report titled ‘Arts, Cultural Activity, Sport and Wellbeing’ supported by EM Media and the Arts Council East Midlands.


SWB data from Understanding Society was used in this research and included overall satisfaction with work/life balance, general happiness and a measure of individual’s satisfaction with the amount of leisure time they have. The dependent variables analysed comprised life satisfaction, amount of leisure time, job and a measure of general happiness. These depended variables were regressed against variables measuring engagement with the arts, cultural and sporting activities. Control variables were selected based on findings drawn from other SWB research and included personal characteristics such as gender, age, disability, working hours and overtime, relationships, including whether a person has dependent children and what age they are. Control variables also included level of education and economic activity. The measure of an individual’s engagement in sport, arts or culture was taken from the Understanding Society‘s questions on how frequently in the previous 12 months the person had taken part in these activities.

Read the report:

You can read the full article in the Journal of Cultural Economics: