Arts & Sciences

Fighting loneliness by finding purpose

new study co-authored by Patrick Hill, PhD, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, offers an important message for our times: A sense of purpose in life — whether it’s a high-minded quest to make a difference or a simple hobby with personal meaning — can offer potent protection against loneliness. 

“Loneliness is known to be one of the biggest psychological predictors for health problems, cognitive decline, and early mortality,” Hill said. “Studies show that it can be as harmful for health as smoking or having a poor diet.”

Photo: The Ampersand

The new study, based on surveys of more than 2,300 adults in Switzerland, found that feelings of loneliness were less common in people who reported a purposeful life, regardless of their age. It was co-authored by Mathias Allemand of the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Gabriel Olaru of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

Respondents were asked to score their feelings on a lack of companionship, isolation from other people, and a sense of being “left out or passed over” during a four-week period. Participants also filled out the six-item Life Engagement Test, which asked them to rate statements such as “there is not enough purpose in my life” and “I value my activities a lot.”

 “A sense of purpose is this general perception that you have something leading and directing you from one day to the next,” Hill said. “It can be something like gardening, supporting your family, or achieving success at work.”

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