The Concept of Lifestyle

Lifestyle is a term that encompasses a wide range of activities, practices, values and habits that constitute the daily behaviour of people. It includes how, where and with whom we live, what we eat and drink, our fashion sense, recreational habits (such as smoking, drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs) and the way in which we manage our time and money.

The concept of lifestyle is used in a variety of scientific fields, from health psychology to sociology and beyond. Because of its broad and diverse definition, it has become a popular topic for research and analysis. However, the field of lifestyle has not yet agreed on a single definition and different disciplines have developed models, theories and research variables that are often distant from each other.

As a result, the concept of lifestyle is ambiguous and its use has often been criticised as overly general and not related to actual life choices. For instance, it is frequently used in medical and behavioural research as a way to describe a person’s choice of health behaviours, with the aim of identifying factors that contribute to or hinder healthy behaviour. In this context, it is often assumed that lifestyle behaviours can be modified through targeted educational campaigns.

Likewise, the concept of lifestyle has been used in sociological research as a way to identify how social structures and patterns shape individual’s actions and behaviour. It is also a way to study the cultural and ideological construction of lifestyles and the influence of external factors on them. For example, Bourdieu highlighted the relationship between a ‘lifestyle’ as a legitimate art of living typical for the upper classes and the social stratification that shapes lifestyles.

There is, therefore, a need for a common understanding of the term lifestyle to enable cross-disciplinary collaboration and ensure the validity of research results. This article aims to shed light on this issue by reexaminating the main explicit definitions of the term in both the psychological and sociological fields from three interpretative keys: internal, external and temporal (see Table 1).

In psychological literature, the concept of lifestyle was defined initially as a personality trait, that is, as a unique psychic imprint that characterises an individual, where different traits of behaviour, thoughts, opinions and feelings converge and orient actions and reactions. A second line of psychological research, as developed by Rokeach in the 1960s, identified lifestyle as a system of values and attitudes that converged to form behavioural models. Finally, the third line of psychological research considered the concept as a process of self-definition in relation to society. However, this last interpretation is currently less in favour than the first two. This is because the process of self-definition involves a complex dynamic interaction between society and individuals. It is also influenced by the cultural context in which lifestyle is developed and can vary over time.