How Seniors Are Finding Purpose During COVID-19

One-third of seniors report having a more purposeful life in 2020

Last Updated: September 2, 2020 | The Senior List Research Team

We all strive for a life with purpose. Many adults find that purpose in their work through teaching or helping others and being part of a team. Others find it in parenting or family. But after retirement, many people must find a way to regain that sense of fulfillment within themselves.

A life filled with purpose can help seniors be happier and is even associated with a decreased risk of early death1. Living purposefully provides more lasting fulfillment than simply staying busy, it means having goals which motivate us to live better. Seniors who live purpose-driven lives take better care of themselves, and tend to have less stress1. Finding meaning in life is a major component of mental well being, and meeting this psychological need helps improve physical health.

Purpose can come from helping others, teaching, building relationships, or continual learning. Older adults who want a more fulfilling life should find ways to volunteer, mentor, stay social, learn new skills, and discover their true passions. The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the ability to do all of these, so we wanted to find out how seniors are finding purpose during this difficult time.

(You may also find it interesting to compare this study to our studies on how seniors are coping with dating and loneliness during COVID-19 covering more than 2,500 older adults).

We asked more than 500 adults aged 60+ about what they have done during the pandemic to bring more fulfillment into their life. We found that finding purpose is important to the vast majority of seniors, and that many are taking steps to make it happen.

Key Findings:

  • 85% say living a purposeful life is extremely or very important
  • 35% are living a more purpose-driven life now that a year ago
  • 92% have taken at least one action shown to improve fulfillment in the past 6 months

Seniors want a purpose-driven life

Over 85% of respondents said that living a purposeful life is either extremely important (51%) or very important (34%). Women find living a purposeful life even more important than men, with 58% of them saying it is extremely important, compared to just 43% of men who said the same.

Older adults are living more purposeful lives than last year

COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of Americans. Social distancing has increased isolation for many seniors which is linked to decreased physical health. It does not seem, however, that the pandemic has done much to dampen the desire to find purpose in life for most older adults. While almost half (46%) of respondents said there hasn’t been a change in how purpose-driven their lives are this year vs. last year, 35% report that they feel they are living a more purpose-driven life now.

Seniors are doing what it takes to live the purpose-driven life they want

We presented respondents with a list of actions and asked which they have taken in the last 6 months. The vast majority have done at least one of these important things with just 8% having not done any.

Self-care has been a big topic during COVID-19 and over half of the respondents (54%) reported that they have practiced self-care or wellness. Volunteering, exploring interests, considering injustices in the world, surrounding themselves with positive people, and starting conversations with new people each came in at around 40%. 23% say they have learned a new skill in the last 6 months which is more difficult to accomplish but in many ways can provide a more lasting sense of fulfillment.

Seniors are thinking about how they want to live their remaining years and recognize that finding purpose and meaning is the key to a fulfilling life. More importantly, many are taking the steps necessary to achieve this. As more is learned about the connection between purpose and health we may see an even greater emphasis on helping seniors find it.


The Senior List’s research team actively studies aging in place. We publish independent content covering social, economic, political, and geographic topics for seniors. We surveyed 505 Americans 60 and older on their purpose in life and whether the coronavirus pandemic had changed the way they live.