How to trade loneliness for connectedness, and how did we get here?

lonely person morguefileWe’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.

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2 responses to “How to trade loneliness for connectedness, and how did we get here?

  1. Interesting, and a very good post.

    There’s another book (from the late 1990s), “Bowling Alone”, that uses the decline in bowling league play as both model and metaphor for the increasing fragmentation of our society.

    I suppose I am sort of a case in point – due to illness, my career as a college teacher ended a few years ago, and I have started a second career in writing. It’s about all I can do, as I’m pretty much homebound. Riding in a car is just too painful to make going out worthwhile, and I live on the open range of New Mexico, so there are no close neighbors.

    I’m not lonely, but I have changed. My wife works in ABQ, and she’s popular among her colleagues, and maintains friendships among those with whom she commutes.

    I, on the other hand, don’t talk to anyone except the dogs. And in the years over which this has developed, my wife and I have less and less to talk about. She’s a part of the world; I’m not.

    I do maintain two blogs, and actively comment on others, for 4-6 hours per day. But it’s not really connectedness; it’s closer to pontification. There is interaction, but it’s a feedback loop; it doesn’t really force growth the way personal contact ideally does.

    Being trained to be self-sufficient, and being that way by inclination as well certainly makes life easier. I was never much of a social animal, and I cannot imagine what this life would be like for someone whose happiness depends on interaction with others.

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

  2. Thank you for your message and comment. You offer a good example of modern day situations that can be isolating. I’m glad that you are lonely and that your dogs offer companionship. I hope that you will reach out to your wife to discuss each of your worlds and how they connect. Merry Christmas to you as well.

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