A New Study Finds That Engaging In Meaningful And Challenging Activities Can Reduce Loneliness
Free time is necessary. But, too much of anything isn’t ever good and the pandemic gave us more free time […]
Free time is necessary. But, too much of anything isn’t ever good and the pandemic gave us more free time than we probably needed. And yes, I know that the quarantine is long over but the effects of it are still present, leaving some individuals feeling lost or lonely. In April, the Good News Network shared a study by Penn State which found that people can minimize loneliness and elevate positive thoughts and emotions by engaging in meaningful and challenging activities during their free time.
John Dattilo, professor of recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State, worked with an international team of researchers to study how individuals can make the most out of their leisure time and reduce feelings of loneliness.
Dattilo explained, “There is a well-known saying: ‘Time flies when you are having fun. The unspoken corollary is that time drags when you are bored. Our research shows that both of these ideas are true. By engaging in meaningful activities during free time that demand focus, people can reduce loneliness and increase momentary happiness.”
Is Technology Part of The Problem?
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Despite technologies amazing advancements to connect us with friends and family all over the world at any point in time, previous research has shown that loneliness has increased over recent decades. It affects people of all ages, reaching most of the population during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dattilo shared, “Loneliness is very connected to our health.”
Adding in, “Psychological, emotional, and cognitive health are all challenged when people are lonely. Loneliness is associated with depression and other mental health challenges.”
“Troublingly,” Dattilo continued, “there is a loneliness epidemic. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has increased loneliness for many people, the silver lining is that the pandemic has also exposed the scope of the loneliness problem. Anything we can do as a society to reduce loneliness should improve health and happiness for people everywhere.”
Find Your Flow, Feel Less Lonely
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“When people become engrossed in what they are doing, they enter a state that is called ‘flow,’” Dattilo explained. “Flow can be achieved by engaging in mental or physical activities that we value and that require us to concentrate fully to use our skills.”
Researchers have found that by engaging in activities that require some skill but not a difficult amount, feelings of loneliness can be reduced. Additionally, the activity must demand a fair amount of concentration in order for it be meaningful to the individual. What induces flow will vary from person to person but, it can be anything from something artistic like playing an instrument, to something physical like snowboarding, or a mental task such as writing.
“When we enter a state of flow, we become absorbed and focused, and we experience momentary enjoyment,” Dattilo continued. “When we leave a state of flow, we are often surprised by how much time has passed.”
Finding flow gives a person the feeling of purpose- something we all need. It can minimize loneliness in those who lack a large amount of social support.
Dattilo concluded, “Learning which activities might enable someone to enter a state of flow requires asking questions and listening. People tend to thrive on healthy engagement and challenge. My collaborators and I hope that this research will help people live fuller, happier, healthier lives.”