A new study published in the journal Psychology and Aging has shown that having a sense of purpose in life protects against loneliness. This, in turn, may help maintain and improve heart health throughout life.
The study included over 2,300 Swiss adults who completed a survey that measured their sense of purpose, loneliness, level of support received from others, and level of support provided to others. Questions on the survey measured factors such as a lack of companionship, isolation from others, a sense of being left out, feeling that there is not enough purpose in one’s life, and the value participants placed on their activities. After completing the survey, a model was used to determine the associations between each of the four variables.
The results showed that a sense of purpose was negatively associated with loneliness — in other words, the more purpose people had, the less lonely they felt. Sense of purpose was positively associated with both giving support and receiving support from others, suggesting that social connections play an important role in one’s sense of purpose.
The authors noted that having a sense of purpose gives you the perception that you have something “leading and directing” you from day to day. Examples of purposes can include gardening, family, work, social clubs, volunteering, and sports leagues. Many activities that lead to a sense of purpose involve other people, which may be partially why loneliness and a sense of purpose are negatively correlated. However, the authors further noted that a sense of purpose in itself seems to also protect against loneliness, regardless of whether that purpose involves others. Previous studies have shown that loneliness increases heart risks, so having a sense of purpose may improve both mental and physical health by decreasing loneliness. Importantly, the authors stated that one’s purpose doesn’t have to be a quest to save the world; even small things can lead to purpose in life, and things that may seem trivial to others can bring you a sense of purpose as long as they are important to you.