We can speculate as to the many reasons why such an enormous amount of Americans report feeling lonely. She’s lonely because she works all day, doesn’t have a boyfriend or three cats, and eats all her meals at home. He’s lonely because he spends 12 hours a day playing video games. The boy is lonely because he’s been shuffled from one foster home to another and has decided not to invest any emotions into one more adult. The scenarios are endless, but the through line is “connection.” A lack of authentic, deep connection between people is amiss, and the fallout is a cultural epidemic of loneliness.
You thought you were feeling bad before you read this! I’ll toss out some facts so we know what we’re dealing with, but then, we’ll take a look at how feeling lonely doesn’t need to be part of your daily repertoire any longer. OK, so, about 70 years ago, less than 10% of American households had just one person it in. Now it’s over 25%. Living alone, doesn’t equate to loneliness, per se. However, lack of face-to-face personal interaction is the greatest cause of loneliness.
John Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, is an expert on the topic of loneliness. He believes we have never been lonelier since the growth of social media. It’s a false sense of having company. “…Surrogates can never make up completely for the absence of the real thing”.
Some sources go as far as to suggest that using Facebook and Twitter make us more narcissistic rather than connected. Nonetheless, Cacioppo would concur that in order to diminish feelings of loneliness, you’ve got to get out. You don’t have to hop into crowds, crash parties, or meet with old girlfriends or boyfriends. But this girlfriend has done some research, and wants to share several ways to get off the loneliness train.
Loneliness is psychological, but it also affects your brain. One study showed that loneliness even affects the basic transcription of DNA. We’ve got to rid ourselves of this dis-ease! Here are some alternatives we can call into action:
1. Volunteer in a group with people: Being of service gives us a feeling of value. A lot of times we don’t go out or make new friends because we don’t feel worthy. Start boosting your esteem by helping others. Deal poker in a retirement home. Teach tumbling to pre-schoolers. Help with local 5K races in your area for charities.
2. Join meet-up groups: Look online and you will find thousands of groups in your area of like-minded peeps. Steer toward the non-hook-up crowds. Hiking buddies, paleontology–lovers, trivia buffs. Check a few out, in person. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
3. Take a weekend sabbatical from electronics: See what you come up with when you can’t rely on your “virtual” friends to keep you company. Go to a store or a restaurant. You’ll find yourself making more eye contact when you don’t have a phone to stare at. It will be uncomfortable at first, but so rewarding when you power through.
4. Allow yourself to be vulnerable: If you’re not willing to be open and authentic, you won’t reap the rewards of true familial satisfaction. To feel un-lonely, you have to get connected. The only way to do that is to be brave and wear your heart on your sleeve—or at least nearby. It will be worth the courage.
I’m convinced we need others (face-to-face) in our lives to keep us feeling full and intensely alive; It’s backed by scientific study—and a diary I’ve kept for many years. Start with a purposeful perception. Look at the things you’re grateful for. Gratitude will give you a sense of worthiness and positivity. From there, you can conquer having dinner with someone else at least once a week! Good luck and may your lonely days become memories of the past…