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According to psychological and brain science research, there is a link between social interactions and having a sense of purpose in older adults. Although these findings, which were published in the July 2022 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, apply to both working and retired adults, the study discovered that, for better or worse, these interactions are more strongly correlated with purposefulness in people who are retired.

“Specifically for our retired older adults, this is a construct we should really care about,” said Gabrielle Pfund, who led the study as a PhD student in the lab of Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences. Pfund graduated in June and is now at Northwestern University.

Research team worked with 100 adults of age 71

The research team worked with a group of 100 adults, the average age being around 71. For 15 days, participants were asked three times per day about the quality of their social interactions. Every evening, they were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with their lives on a scale of one to five.

More positive interactions, the more purposeful they feeling

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. What is a sense of purpose? Having a sense of purpose is defined as the extent to which one feels that they have personally meaningful goals and directions guiding them through life. Of note, Pfund said, the study also showed how dynamic a person’s own sense of purpose could be.

“Most research on sense of purpose is focused on big-picture orientation of someone being purposeful versus someone being not purposeful,” she said. But it turns out, purposefulness may be more dynamic.

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