Day by Day: How Daily Interactions Affect Older Adults’ Sense of Purpose

A sense of purpose in life can be very influential. It can affect our goals, directions, and sometimes even health outcomes. In a study that earned a Silver 2022 Innovative Research on Aging Award, researchers investigated whether sense of purpose varies daily in older adults and, if so, does the variability result from positive or negative interactions throughout the day. Researchers believe they found evidence that older adults who have positive interactions throughout the day can help maintain their sense of purpose. 

Older adults (average age 70–75) were recruited via newspaper and senior university programs in Zurich, Switzerland, to complete the study’s survey. The study was 1.5 years long and was made up of three measurement “bursts” that were spread 5 to 6 months apart. During these “bursts,” participants would respond to three surveys a day from Monday to Friday. These surveys always started by requesting participants’ demographical information. They were then questioned on their social interactions during that day, and if they were positive or negative. At night, participants would answer the last question which was how purposeful they felt their day was. Results indicated that on days when individuals reported more positive social interactions, they reported feeling more purposeful. 

The effect of having more positive social interactions throughout their day and feeling more purposeful at the end of the day seemed to be especially strong for older adults who are no longer working. Researchers believe that if older adults can have more positive social interactions throughout the day, their sense of purpose will be enhanced, and they will be able to reap the benefits—namely, positive cognitive and physical health outcomes—from an increased sense of purpose. 


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Pfund, G. N., Hofer, M., Allemand, M., & Hill, P. L. (2022). Being social may be purposeful in older adulthood: a measurement burst design. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 30(7), 777-786.  

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