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Social Isolation vs. Happiness


From a general standpoint, happiness is an emotional state identified by feelings of satisfaction and positivity, of which many individuals are eager to obtain. On the contrary, social isolation is associated with decreased life satisfaction and poor mental health. Happiness is believed to foster social relationships while social behaviors are believed to be essential to happiness. In the absence of personal connections and meaningful relationships, how is an individual’s overall happiness affected? During times of isolation, it possible to achieve or sustain happiness?

Research suggests that extended periods of social isolation can negatively impact an individual’s mind, mood, and body, unless deliberate measures are taken to nurture one’s well-being. In the words of clinical psychologist Anne Rufa, PhD, “Humans are social creatures by nature. We are not meant to lead solitary lives. It is important for us to be able to engage, to share our experiences and feelings with others and have them bear witness” (Germany). Moreover, social isolation can have an overall negative effect on one’s happiness. Furthermore, poor physical health can be attributed to isolation, causing an additional decline in happiness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous studies were conducted looking at the relationship between these two factors. A study conducted by The World Happiness Report, reported that one of the largest declines during the pandemic occurred in the area of happiness and life satisfaction, along with mental and physical health. They concluded that isolation led to feelings of “lack of flourishing” and boredom (California). Together, these two aspects cause people to regress and feel less optimistic about life.

Additionally, one’s physical health can be impacted by the increased risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and premature death. Not only do these physical conditions create physical complications, but they can also cause one to feel less content about their well-being. Research published by the Association for Psychological Science looked at the relationship between happiness and isolation by applying the hedonic-flexibility principle. This principle claims that “people are more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities when they feel bad, and to engage in mood-decreasing activities when they feel good” (Quoidbach). For example, one may go on a jog to lift their mood or clean the house when they feel joyful. Participants were monitored over a 30-day period to examine happiness and social interactions. The study was conducted by having participants complete short questionnaires measuring their well-being throughout the day, at random times. The findings reflected the hedonic-flexibility principle, showing that individuals were more likely to reach out to a friend or family member when they reported a low well-being score, and less likely to seek interactions when they reported a higher well-being score. However, the significant finding was the decrease in well-being scores when an individual was unable to contact a friend or family member, causing them to feel isolated from their connections.

Furthermore, the participants of the study reported feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, and lack of motivation. After only 3 consecutive days of limited social interactions, the participant’s well-being scores dropped substantially. Researchers speculate that being with acquaintance was better than being alone, but was not enough to significantly elevate one’s well-being. Finally, interacting with strangers was associated with a lower well-being score. The study’s overall conclusion was “the research demonstrated the importance of maintaining strong social networks for physical and mental health” (Quoidbach). Research findings from the study on “The effects of social isolation on well-being and life satisfaction during pandemic,” explains the phenomenon behind isolation. The study reports that people experiencing social isolation undergo elevations in negative mood and overall lower life satisfaction (Clair). This response causes them to engage in obsessive, compulsive thinking that leads to a negative, pessimistic outlook. Factors come into play affecting an individual’s perception of social isolation, such as employment status, quality of family life, coping tools, access to resources, quality of home/living, and stressors. However, despite extraneous variables, research is conclusive that social isolation causes a decline in mental and physical health, happiness, and life satisfaction.

Although isolation can be detrimental, there are opportunities that one can take in order to revive their welfare during these times. For instance, an individual can maintain relationships through social media platforms, such as Zoom, FaceTime, Snapchat, Houseparty, or Discord. Not only do these apps offer ways to communicate with others, but some of them also provide online games to play with friends. A finding of a study including 1,412 online participants revealed, “using social media as a way to express emotions to overcome hardships was related to post-traumatic growth, which in turn was related to greater prosocial behavior” (California). Stronger online social support was also linked to greater well-being and prosocial behavior.

Additionally, people have the ability to care for their health in times of isolation by exercising indoors, spending time outside, eating healthy meals, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. In an Ireland study of about 600 adults who were surveyed during stay-at-home orders, “those who spent more time outdoors and engaged in activities such as exercising or going for a walk reported more positive affect and less negative affect” (California). Another positive action an individual can take is to organize personal spaces. According to Rubin, the author of “Outer Order, Inner Calm”, many people “feel more inner calm and happiness when their outer surroundings are more clutter-free” (TodayShow). An untidy living area can make it difficult for one to focus on tasks, increase stress/anxiety, or even be the cause of restless sleep. Isolation forces people to spend more time in their homes anyways, so it offers a great opportunity to keep these spaces organized and clean.

Overall, what role does social isolation play on one’s overall happiness? Well, as explained, the act of isolating can be a roadblock for pursuing ultimate welfare; however, be optimistic! Isolation is not one’s ultimate downfall as there are several positive solutions to engage in that assist one through difficult times, while also promoting happy emotions!

:)

Works Cited

California, Karynna Okabe-Miyamoto University of, and University of California. Social Connection and Well-Being during COVID-19, 20 Mar. 2021, worldhappiness.report/ed/2021/social-connection-and-well-being-during-covid-19/.


Clair, Ruta, et al. “The Effects of Social Isolation on Well-Being and Life Satisfaction during Pandemic.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 27 Jan. 2021, www.nature.com/articles/s41599-021-00710-3.


Germany, Judy, and Judy Germany is a Senior Content Strategist and health & wellness content manager at Rush. “Combating the Effects of Social Isolation.” Rush System, www.rush.edu/news/combating-effects-social-isolation#:~:text=And%20prolonged%20isolation%20can%20have,pressure%2C%20heart%20disease%20and%20diabetes.


Quoidbach, Jordi, et al. “Happiness and Social Behavior.” Psychological Science, vol. 30, no. 8, 2019, pp. 1111–1122., doi:10.1177/0956797619849666.

TodayShow. “Americans Are Unhappier than Ever - Here's How to Find Joy in Troubled Times.” TODAY.com, 16 June 2020, www.today.com/health/7-ways-feel-happier-during-coronavirus-pandemic-t179220.





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