Preliminary Findings 2018

Activity Engagement and Meaning:  Importance of meaningful activities

We examined the relationship between students’ overall sense of meaning in life, various types of extracurricular activities, and participation in at least one meaningful activity.

The sample included 6049 undergraduate students from 16 universities who participated in the 2018 Wellbeing Assessment survey administration.  Data were weighted using raking.

Results of a structural equation model (SEM) indicate that participation in at least one meaningful extracurricular activity is related to students’ overall sense of meaning in life (standardized coefficient = .33; Figure 1).

 

Figure 1. Results for SEM examining meaningful activity participation and meaning in life.  TLI = .96; CFI = .97; RMSEA = .023; chi-square = 172.94; df = 41.

Results also reveal differences in activity meaningfulness across type of extracurricular activity. Participation in club/intramural and varsity sports had the strongest relationships to self-reported involvement in at least one meaningful activity, followed closely by social fraternity/sorority participation.  Participation in political groups, media groups, and student government had the weakest relationships to self-reported involvement in at least one meaningful activity.

A second SEM included an examination of direct relationships between types of extracurricular activities and overall sense of meaning in life and found no evidence of a direct relationship (all structural coefficients ≤ .09; Figure 2).

Figure 2. Results for SEM examining direct relationship between activity participation and meaning in life.  TLI = .98; CFI = .99; RMSEA = .016; chi-square = 4851.98 ; df =58.

Together, these findings indicate that:

  1. Students’ overall sense of meaning is not about number or types of activities in which they are involved.  Rather, it is a function of the fit between a student’s sense of meaning and the activity.
  2. The type of activity does not directly contribute to sense of meaning. Rather, sense of meaning is completely mediated by meaningfulness of the activity to the student.  

These findings have implications for student affairs professionals who plan and offer programming for undergraduate students.  Offering more programs to students is not necessarily better. It is more important to understand what makes activities and programs meaningful for students (e.g., students’ needs, interests, and values) and program accordingly.