Loving Others: The Impact of Compassionate Love on Later-Life Psychological Well-being

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Journals of Gerontology Series B - Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences


Objectives: Existing scholarship in social gerontology has paid relatively little attention to broader loving emotions, such as compassionate and altruistic love, as potentially meaningful mechanisms for improving later-life psychological well-being outside a family framework.

Method: Drawing from a 3-wave longitudinal survey of community-dwelling older residents (n = 334) of Miami, Florida, we utilized generalized estimating equation models to examine the influence of changes in compassionate love (i.e., feeling love toward other persons and experiencing love from others) on depressive symptoms over time. We also explored cross-sectional relationship between compassionate love and positive and negative affects.

Results: An increase in the feeling of being loved (beta = -0.77, p < .001) and feeling love for others (beta = -0.78, p < .001) led to a decline in odds of reporting greater levels of depressive symptoms over time. The odds of reporting higher level of positive affect were significantly greater for older adults who reported feeling loved by others (beta = .63, p < .001) and expressed love for other people (beta = 0.43, p < .05). Older adults who felt loved and expressed love for other people, respectively, had 0.71 and 0.54-point lower ordered log odds of reporting higher negative affect than those who reported lower levels of love. The statistically significant impact of feeling loved on all well-being outcomes was maintained even after adjustment for altruistic attitudes and emotional support. Except for depressive symptoms, such adjustments explained the positive influence of love for others on well-being outcomes.

Discussion: Our findings underscore the powerful influence of both receiving and giving loving emotions for the maintenance of later-life psychological well-being.


The data were collected with support of National Institute of Health (NIH) grant 1 R01 NR10271.