The positive impacts of social connections and social networks are well known. Older adults with more active social networks tend to have fewer depressive symptoms, are more satisfied with their lives, and report better quality of life (Layte et al., 2013; Pinquart & Sorensen, 2000). There is extensive evidence to suggest that it is the quality of relationships that improve wellbeing, rather than presence or quantity of relationships e.g. (Antonucci, Lansford, & Akiyama, 2001). This may be particularly true for older people, as they choose to reduce the size of their social networks and focus on a smaller number of high quality relationships (Fung & Carstensen, 2004).
Good quality social relationships can improve self-esteem, sense of belonging or companionship, and improve a person’s sense of purpose or “mattering” (Thoits, 2011). High quality social networks and relationships can also "get under the skin", and have a positive effect on self-rated health, disability, and mortality (Bath & Deeg, 2005; Cornwell & Waite, 2009; Leon, Gold, Glass, Kaplan, & George, 2001). It is thought that social relationships improve people’s physical health by making them happier and more satisfied with their lives, but also by increasing motivation and support for healthier lifestyles (Thoits, 2011).
In addition to social relationships and networks, engaging in social leisure activities is also beneficial for quality of life among older people (Bowling, Banister, Sutton, Evans, & Windsor, 2002; Huxhold, Miche, & Schüz, 2014). There is also a growing literature on the positive effect on quality of life of productive social activities such as volunteering and providing support to others, particularly when the activities are characterised by a high degree of control or engagement (Matz-Costa, Besen, Boone James, & Pitt-Catsouphes, 2014; McMunn, Nazroo, Wahrendorf, & Zaninotto, 2009; Wahrendorf, von dem Knesebeck, & Siegrist, 2006).
Engaging in creative activity also has benefits for psychological well-being among older people, at least partly through an increase in social interaction (Wikstrom, 2002). Evidence of the value of participation in the arts was found in a study carried out by Matarasso (1997) which identified the effects of participation such as increases in people’s confidence and sense of self-worth, increased involvement in social activity/reduced isolation, encouraging self-reliance, facilitating health education and building social capital.