Social interactions and sense of purpose interlinked, study says

A new study has shown that social interactions and a sense of purpose are interlinked when it comes to older adults and this sense of purposefulness fluctuates from day to day depending on the social interactions that adults have.

Having a sense of purpose is about more than feeling good. Prior research has shown that adults with a higher sense of purpose lead longer, healthier and happier lives. They have lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and heart and other cardiovascular problems.

One of the important findings is that while the findings apply to both working and retired adults social interactions are more strongly correlated to purposefulness in people who are retired.

The research team worked with a group of some 100 adults with an average age of about 71. For 15 days, participants were asked three times daily about the quality of the social interactions they’d had that day. Every evening they were asked to use a scale of one to five to answer the question: How much do you think your life had a purpose today?

After analyzing the responses, they found — relative to each person’s own baseline — the more positive interactions a person had during the day, the more purposeful they reported feeling in the evening. Other measures, including employment and relationship status, did not predict a person’s sense of purpose.

Although some people do tend to be generally more or less purposeful overall researchers found that it changes from day to day with people experiencing fluctuations relative to their own averages.

The association was much stronger in retired people, the data showed: more positive social interactions showed a stronger association with a higher sense of purpose while more negative interactions were more strongly tied to a lower sense of purpose.

The research has its limitations, two among them being that the sample was taken from data collected in Zurich, Switzerland, and the respondents were typically in good health. These findings may look different in other countries or amongst older adults with poorer health.

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