(This post is part of a weekly series for Know Thyself 2019, a 365 day journal project. Start here!)
“Everybody needs somebody sometimes…” by Dean Martin
This week’s journal topic: Loneliness
Loneliness is a popular topic in the news these days. News articles tell us that loneliness is the new epidemic, that research is being directed into pharmaceuticals and AI to combat loneliness, and that governments are installing public infrastructure directed at facilitating interactions between strangers. How is it that we can be so lonely despite living in densely populated cities? What does it mean to be lonely?
Let’s examine what pop culture means by loneliness. Loneliness is a painful feeling of sadness or anxiety associated with a lack of connection or meaningful interaction with others. Loneliness is not mere isolation – some people live alone for years and don’t feel lonely. Many of us live in cities, mere meters from another human being, but still feel lonely. It’s strange to think that there are seven billion people on this planet, but a good quarter of us feel lonely.
When we say we’re lonely, what we’re probably doing is communicating one of these complaints:
- I have no one to talk to (neither small talk nor engaging conversation)
- I have no friends to participate in activities with
- An animal is my best friend
- I can’t find a suitable romantic partner
- I feel isolated and don’t have opportunities to feel socially welcome
- I’m afraid of rejection and become self-conscious when trying to connect with others
The interesting thing about loneliness is that it seems to be entirely determined by the person who is feeling lonely. It’s certainly possible to feel lonely at a party filled with people who want to talk. It’s also possible to spend months in seclusion without feeling lonely at all.
The Internet and Loneliness
Part of loneliness is not having a partner there at the moment that you want and expect someone to be there. For this reason, loneliness is getting worse and becoming an “epidemic”. Before the internet, there was no expectation that people could be contacted at any time. If it was past ten o’clock, then it was a fact of life that you would have to spend time alone – it was a normal part of life. In the age of the internet and social media it’s “normal” to expect other people to be available whenever we do not want to be alone. Being alone is no longer “normal”.
The internet has made connections so easy that we do not realize that effort is required for deep relationships. Joining an internet forum is easy and provides a certain level of meaningful interaction; however, because of the level of anonymity that members maintain, there are few social obligations in comparison to real life meetups. While it’s inconvenient to join a board games club because other people might actually expect you to show up, the benefit is that showing up for meetups builds trust and rapport, and therefore increases each member’s sense of belonging. Churches and religious communities are especially good at helping people avoid loneliness because they create a social obligation to show up to regular meetings.
Loneliness and Awkward Moments
Feelings of loneliness are increased by hopelessness. Self-consciousness and fear of appearing awkward or shy prevents people from attempting to make connections. If you lose hope of making connections, this makes loneliness worse. Fortunately, we can learn social skills that will help us create smooth interactions by learning to focus on other people and asking questions!
- What is one time in your life that you felt lonely?
- By reflecting on your past experiences, what are the things you do to deal with the feeling of loneliness?
- Which demographic is most lonely in society and why? Consider: elderly, young men, young women, teenagers, middle aged, disabled etc…
- Do you think loneliness is a social problem that governments should help solve and why?
- Do you think that loneliness is a medical problem (i.e. should doctors prescribe treatments, pills, or therapy for loneliness)?
- Has the internet has made people more or less lonely?
- Describe the difference between loneliness and solitude (being alone).
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Don’t rush through the questions. Do one question every day, leaving space to add thoughts later as you learn and evolve. The journal is designed to help you develop a consistent, daily practice of self-reflection.
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