We’ve passed the Stone Age, the Space Age, and the Digital Age. We’ve entered a post-social age our ancestors would have believed impossible. We’ve entered the Age of Loneliness. This is the age in which independence is valued over connectedness, where going it alone is the road more traveled. So argues George Monbiot in his Guardian article “The age of loneliness is killing us”.
During this holiday season, those who are lonely may feel it all the more intensely. This feeling makes us want to retreat, but instead, we need to reach out. We might be the ones offering help, or the ones asking for help. Either way, reaching out can benefit us as individuals and as a society.
Loneliness is an epidemic affecting young adults as well as older people, according to researchers. At times we may feel alone even among our family and friends or with our spouse. American society encourages isolation as a strength. We begin to believe that no one understands us—our deepest selves—and our fears and desires. Social media and the ubiquity of phones, computers, TVs, and ear buds makes true daily interaction much less likely.
The truth is we as human beings thrive on connection and are shaped by social interactions, says Monbiot. We are more alike than we care to admit. Yes we are each unique, but we are eating away at ourselves by pretending to be so different from the rest of humanity. We were not meant to cope alone, so to improve our lives, we need to focus more on truly connecting with those around us. That means putting down the phone, shutting off the TV, and opening our hearts and minds to one another. Sadly, two-fifths of older people report the TV is their principal company.
Individualism has become the American religion. Monbiot says more people less likely to talk to a higher power and more likely to seek the one-eyed TV god. More kids aspire to “become rich” than to engage in careers that serve and help others. He adds that TV encourages competition, hedonism and a drive toward materialism. Those who watch a lot of TV gain less satisfaction on the same income as those who watch a little. Further, acting in a competitive manner doesn’t make us richer. Even if it did, it wouldn’t make us happier.
The richest 1% with average net worth of $78 million reported they were filled with anxiety, dissatisfaction, and yes, loneliness. They even felt financially insecure believing that they needed 25% more to feel secure.
“For this, we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomizing, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness,” Monbiot says.
Our efforts to turn inward and away from others has only resulted in extreme loneliness among various income and age levels. It will take strong effort for us to reach out to others in need, to make attempts to connect with our kids, our partners, our siblings, our parents, to not hide out behind our screens. It’s not easy to share your real self.
If you are feeling that no one understands you, that your spouse, your friends and your extended family aren’t connected to you at a high level, that’s a sign that you may be retreating more than reaching out. Check in on your neighbors. Ask questions about your friends’ dreams and passions. Talk to your spouse about their biggest fears and hopes. It’s amazing when we really connect with one another that we find we have more common ground than we thought.
Through your deeper connections, may you find love and joy this season.
Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.