[caption id="attachment_26633" align="alignright" width="225" caption="Image by kirsche222 on Stock.xchng"]Social seniors are more content.[/caption]

A new Gallup poll shows that socialization is clearly linked to happiness and lower stress levels. Seniors (65 and older) report the highest levels of happiness of any age group, and those who spend at least three hours daily socializing are more likely than their peers to report happiness.

The level of happiness reported increases with each hour of social time, to a maximum of about seven hours. Most interesting is that the senior group seems able to maintain their levels of happiness with less social time, provided they are getting at least a few hours each day.

The biggest gap, it seems, is between seniors who get no social time and those who get at least three hours of socialization each day. In fact, the number of seniors reporting happiness and contentment increases by 20 percent between zero and three hours of socialization. But figures remain nearly the same for this age group between those reporting three hours of social time and those reporting up to seven or eight hours.

Research limitations

It's always tough to generalize findings from this type of research. There are many variables that are unaccounted for which could be impacting the numbers.

  • How is socialization defined, specifically? Is there a difference between social time inside or away from the home? The Gallup poll asks, "Approximately how many hours did you spend socially with friends of family yesterday? This can include telephone or email." But the results don't account for differences between those who socialized primarily on the phone and those who spent more time in the direct company of others. Further, it's not clear whether socialization at work counts. Most of us have friends at the  job, so does friendly office chatter count?
  • How many respondents are widows or widowers, and how does this variable skew responses? It's possible that those reporting high levels of contentment have a living spouse, for instance, whereas seniors living alone may require more social hours for the same level of contentment.
  • How many seniors responding are residing in communal settings, such as assisted living or independent living, and what effect does this have on responses?
Clear link between social time and positive emotional state

[caption id="attachment_26634" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image by prangdao on Stock.xchng"]Get social to reduce depression.[/caption]

Still, we can safely conclude that seniors are more likely to be happy if they're spending time with friends and family for at least three hours each day. That could mean spending time in a senior center, an adult day care facility, on the golf course or at the fitness center. For some seniors, it could mean it's time to consider a move to an assisted living home.

Individual personalities and preferences can strongly impact how much satisfaction a senior may get from different activities. Some social outings, for instance, can be very stressful for seniors who struggle with mobility or prefer the comforts of home.

Gallup notes that the average amount of social time spent each day drops dramatically with age. The 30-and-younger crowd reports an average of 8.1 hours of socialization each day, but Americans 65 and older average about 5.7 hours. Among the 65+ group who reported positive moods without a lot of stress and worry the previous day, the average social time was 6.1 hours.

So what's the bottom line? If you're a senior and you're feeling down, try getting out and about. Grab lunch with a friend. Give a loved one a call. If you're a caregiver, and your loved one lives alone and isolated, consider trying a community setting like a senior center or elderly day care center. Encourage your loved one to get involved with activities at church or local social clubs. But be sure to keep a close eye on unpredictable stressors, like a hidden mobility challenge.