The social isolation that consumers have experienced over the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly taken a toll on mental health. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has identified one factor that could make social isolation easier to get through.
According to their findings, consumers with a strong sense of life purpose were more likely to handle this period of isolation better; the study also found that purpose was associated with stronger adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols.
“In the face of adversity, people with a stronger sense of purpose in life tend to be more resilient because they have a clear sense of goals that motivate actions that are aligned with personal values,” said researcher Yoona Kang, Ph.D. “People with strong purpose may also experience less conflict when making health decisions. We felt that the COVID-19 pandemic was an important context to test whether purpose in life relates to individuals’ willingness to engage in behaviors to protect themselves and others.”
Having purpose helps combat loneliness
The researchers surveyed over 500 adults during the COVID-19 pandemic to determine what role life purpose played in how consumers handled extended time alone. The group answered questions about their lives pre-pandemic, including their levels of socialization and loneliness, how they were handling lockdown orders alone, their willingness to abide by safety measures, and their overall life purpose.
The researchers learned that having a strong life purpose was associated with better attitudes about the pandemic and less intense feelings of loneliness. While participants with a strong purpose in life still reported feeling lonely during the pandemic, they also expressed hope that this time in isolation would be worth it and would ultimately be effective.
Conversely, those with a weaker sense of purpose reported higher levels of loneliness. They were also less willing to follow COVID-19 safety protocols, and they reported greater doubt that these measures would help in the long run.
“When faced with extreme loneliness and social isolation, like during the COVID-19 pandemic, wanting to connect with other people, despite the health risks, is a natural response,” Dr. Kang said. “And yet, amidst this drastic shift in social life, we found that people with a higher sense of purpose were more likely to engage in prevention behaviors. This is striking because it shows that purpose in life can empower people to make life-saving health decisions that protect their own health and those around them.”