JUN 07, 2018 7:18 AM PDT

Social Pursuits Keep Us Satisfied As We Age

Staying well is about more than diet, exercise and getting proper medical care. Self-care is essential as well, and part of that is mental well-being. There are hundreds of medical conditions that are induced by stress or depression and many others that are difficult to treat if the patient doesn't feel well mentally.

A new study on satisfaction and well-being shows that people who are involved with others and make an effort to be active socially, feel more satisfied with their lives and are healthier as well. The research was conducted at the University of Leipzig and published recently in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Psychological scientist Julia Rohrer led the work and explained, "Our research showed that people who came up with 'well-being' strategies that involved other people were more satisfied with their lives one year later -- even after taking into account that they were marginally happier, to begin with. In contrast, people who came up with strategies that did not explicitly involve others remained, on average, as satisfied as they were."

The data used in the study came from a subsample of the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, a nationally representative survey of German adults. Beginning in 2014, study volunteers completed questionnaires on how satisfied they were with their lives on a scale from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied). The surveys also asked respondents to predict how satisfied they thought they would be five years into the future. Questions also asked about strategies they would use to stay happy over the long-term. Follow up was conducted a year later to see how the study participants were doing.

In total there were 1178 study volunteers. Many of them (596) made comments like "There isn't much I could change" or spoke of external issues that did not involve taking action themselves to improve their feelings of satisfaction, making general statements about politics or other factors that would make them feel better about their lives. The other 582 participants were more specific, pointing out strategies they planned to take to keep their level of satisfaction high. The study revealed that over time, the two groups were not that different in their levels of happiness, but the researchers wanted to drill down to more specific actions some respondents were taking to see if there would be differences.

Of the answers from participants that mentioned specific strategies for staying well and feeling satisfied, 184 were about social events. They included spending time with family, volunteering to help others, and seeing friends at gatherings. In comparison, those who mentioned nonsocial strategies like "quitting smoking" or "eating better" did not show the improvement in well-being and satisfaction that the social group did. When the researchers looked at time spent on social activities, there was a strong correlation between more time spent with others and higher levels of satisfaction. In summary, the authors wrote, "Many people are interested in becoming happier, but there is a lack of evidence regarding the long-term effects of pursuing happiness through various types of activities. After all, there's no guarantee that trying to become happier doesn't make you more miserable in the end," Rohrer says. "I think our study partly fills that gap in the literature, although more research with a longitudinal perspective is certainly needed." Check out the video below to see how staying socially active can improve health and well-being.

Sources: Association for Psychological Science, ReliaWire, Journal Psychological Science

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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