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Hobby with a personal meaning can fight loneliness, says study

Any hobby with a personal meaning can ward off loneliness, a joint study found.

HQ Team

June 27, 2023: Any hobby with a personal meaning can ward off loneliness, a joint study found.

“Loneliness are known to be one of the biggest psychological predictors of health problems, cognitive decline, and early mortality,” said co-author Patrick Hill, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Studies show that it can be as harmful to health as smoking or having a poor diet.”

A high-minded quest or a sense of purpose can offer protection against loneliness, according to the study, based on surveys of more than 2,300 adults in Switzerland.

‘Left out’

Respondents were asked to score their feelings of 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,” Mr Hill said. “It can be something like gardening, supporting your family, or achieving success at work.”

Many of the activities that can provide a sense of purpose — joining a club, volunteering at a school, playing in a sports league — involve interaction with others, which is one reason why a purpose-filled life tends to be less lonely. 

Social support

In the study, people who said they received or provided social support were especially likely to report feelings of purpose.

Feelings of loneliness were less common in people who reported a purposeful life, regardless of their age, according to the report o-authored by Mathias Allemand of the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Gabriel Olaru of Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

The key was the “sense of purpose” as there was more to fighting loneliness than simply being around others. 

“We’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve felt lonely even though we weren’t actually alone. There’s something about having a sense of purpose that seems to fight loneliness regardless of how many other people are involved,” Mr Hill said.

Quest for purpose

The study found a minor uptick in reports of loneliness for people in their 70s and beyond, an age when a sense of purpose can be especially important. 

“We’re trying to dispel the myth from previous generations that this is simply a time for retiring and resting,” Mr Hill said. “There are no downsides to finding something meaningful later in life.”

It was important to keep in mind that a quest for purpose can be somewhat self-defeating if taken too seriously. “Feeling like you need to save the world can lead to existential dread and distress.” 

When it comes to purpose and meaning, even small things can matter. “It’s Ok, if someone else thinks that your purpose is trivial, as long as it’s meaningful to you.” 

According to a global survey, about 33% of adults experienced feelings of loneliness worldwide. Brazil had the highest percentage of people experiencing this, with 50 percent of respondents declaring that they felt lonely either often, always, or sometimes.

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