Research in positive psychology has shown that positive emotions initiate beneficial processes, culminating in quality of life. Tourism research has suggested that leisure travel is a substantial source of positive emotions. These two areas of research have not connected, however, leaving the processes that foster and follow from positive emotions in the leisure travel context relatively unknown. The purpose of this dissertation is to explain positive emotions associated with leisure travel in terms of their development over time and in terms of the processes that link social contexts to positive emotions.
The population studied is mature adults (individuals over the age of 45). Mature adults are an important and lucrative travel market, as well as a population segment that enjoys elevated levels of positive emotions. This dissertation uses a mixed-method approach that combines psychographic and ethnographic perspectives to study the positive emotions of mature adults in two leisure travel experiences. The dissertation is formatted as two article manuscripts.
The first manuscript focuses on the processes linking mature adult leisure travelers’ social contexts to positive emotions. Socioemotional selectivity theory is the conceptual foundation. This manuscript takes an interpretive ethnographic method approach, using fieldnotes from participant observation of the two experiences studied as well as conversations with key informants. Findings include four processes: amusement from humor, warmth from friendship, interest in activities, and sublime reactions to loss. These findings reveal the importance of social contexts to positive emotions and suggest that norms among communities of leisure travelers and meaningful, personally relevant activities and interpretations foster emotionally positive leisure travel experiences.
The second manuscript focuses on the day-to-day development of positive emotions before, during, and after leisure travel. This manuscript uses a psychometric method perspective, modeling overall positive emotions as well as love, joy, interest, and contentment with mixed-effects linear equations based on the peak model of positive emotion in leisure travel. The peak model suggests that positive emotions increase before leisure travel, remain elevated during, and decline after. Findings were consistent with the peak model for positive emotions overall, joy, and interest.
As a whole, the findings of this dissertation carry several theoretical and practical implications. The findings confirm that leisure travel is emotionally positive and contribute to existing knowledge the specific importance of joy, interest, contentment, awe, and amusement. Also, the findings specific to the processes of friendship form a contrast to socioemotional selectivity theory, showing that mature adults engage new friendships as well as established ones. The findings also suggest that in future intervention studies positive psychologists should pursue leisure travel as a context where individuals’ positive emotions may be increased. Finally, the findings suggest that fostering positive emotions before and after leisure travel may further improve the value of leisure travel experiences.