We are in the middle of a loneliness epidemic.
Nearly half of Americans reported (sometimes or always) feeling alone, and over 40% said that they don’t have any relationships that feel meaningful. Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s.
Society often rewards isolation. It wants us to be good little worker bees… keeping up with doing our busy work so that we can contribute to the GDP, keeping our heads down, and buying a bunch of stuff that we don’t need.
Fewer people are marrying and having children. Corner stores are being replaced by big box stores and online shopping. Community parks and playgrounds are being replaced with parking lots. The HOV lane’s are empty, as everyone goes it alone on their way to work.
And what is the cost of all of this isolation and disconnection?
It has been shown that loneliness has the exact same negative impact on our health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, making chronic loneliness even worse for us than obesity.
And with an increasingly large aging population, the overall effect on public health will likely only increase with time (as people over 55 often get hit the hardest and have even fewer reported confidantes in their lives).
What Is Loneliness?
It’s hard to perfectly define because loneliness is so personal and subjective. One person’s social quota might be more than filled by seeing a friend once per week, and another person would feel strangulated by that lack of social stimulation.
In a sense, loneliness lives in the discrepancy between what someone has in their lives and what they want to experience.
People can have an abundance of relationships in their lives, and still feel a lack of alignment or depth in those relationships. So both quantity and quality play a role when it comes to eradicating the loneliness that so many people feel.
How To Feel Less Lonely
Try out some (or all) of the following tips, and you’ll be and feel more connected to others in no time.
Regardless of whether you’re new in the town you live in… you’re craving more depth in the relationships you already have… or you don’t have a friend to call on in the middle of the night if you need help, the following ideas (when put into action) will help you.
BEFORE I LOSE YOU BECAUSE I USED THE WORD MEDITATION…
Realize that all I mean by meditation is literally sitting down for two minutes and observing the thoughts that roll around in your busy mind.
While you may want a greater quality and quantity of social connection in your life, there may also be a further upstream difficulty that you are secretly facing. And that is the problem of being disconnected from yourself.
Your mind/your heart/your innermost desires may have been calling for your attention for years, but not making any progress.
Sit down for a moment, listen to your own inner world, and this may have a greater impact on your feelings of disconnection than you could have guessed.
Eradicating loneliness is ultimately all about connection. And if you want to be able to connect to others, first you must connect with yourself.
2. Extend to someone
One of the most common pieces of advice that I give whenever I do coaching sessions with married couples is “Give what you most want to receive.”
For example, if a couple is arguing because one of the parties involved doesn’t feel like their partner listens to them enough then their task would be to listen to their partner more.
It is the same thing in multiple arenas in life. And it is definitely this way when it comes to eradicating loneliness.
If you wish you had more friends, be a good friend to others.
If you wish you had friends who you felt deeply supported by, put effort into deeply supporting others.
If you wish more people reached out to you and asked you to hang out with them, reach out to others and ask them to hang out with you.
Be the thing you wish you had, and watch how quickly your life transforms.
A word of caution: our ego doesn’t want to do this at all. It will resist this message like the plague.
“But I want the energy… I already give so much to others (or whatever the story in your mind sounds like). I want to receive!”
Well, too bad. This is an insurmountable impasse that needs to be honoured.
The way through this resistance is to give what you most want to get… and then get the feedback and the results you’ve been after.
The world is full of lonely people who are afraid to make the first move. So make the first move.
3. Organize a weekly dinner for friends and acquaintances that you want to see more of
Remember how I said loneliness is an epidemic? And that a crazy-high percentage of people also feel lonely? Well then, it’s safe to assume that it isn’t just you. This isn’t a ‘you problem’… it’s a society wide problem.
Which… drum roll please… means that there are other people who are just as hungry for deep connection as you are, and they’re waiting for an opportunity to hang out with people just like you!
But here’s the thing…
Everyone wants to connect, but few people want to initiate.
But wait! That gives you a competitive advantage.
If everyone is coming home from work and just twiddling their thumbs (or scrolling their thumbs over their social media feed) then that must mean that they’re all waiting for something awesome to do.
Be that instigator of awesome by bringing together a weekly group of friends and acquaintances. Be the hub of the social circle.
If you currently have absolutely zero friends, then start there. Start by inviting two or three people from work who you kind of like or are interested in knowing more. Invite your cousin. Invite that person you met via an online dating app but it didn’t really go anywhere. Invite whoever… as long as you’re genuinely curious about them, and/or might want to invest in your relationship with them.
If you want to go low-cost, you can have the group be a book club. If you want to really ball-out, you can host a full-on dinner where you provide all of the food, drinks, and Jenga blocks (because is it really a party without a rousing game of Jenga? – unrelated side note: Jenga, please sponsor my blog I love your game so much you basically raised me, k thanks).
Again, everyone is always looking for cool, unique experiences to have, but people are inherently lazy and don’t want to be the fire-starter who makes it happen. Be that fire-starter. Organize the dinner. As a one-off thing, or ideally, as an ongoing, weekly event.
One of the most commonly prescribed (non-medicinal) pieces of advice that people suffering with chronic depression get is to volunteer.
When we’re struggling, drowning in our own minds, and painfully aware of our loneliness, we are simply too close to our own problems.
Rumination is one of the fastest ways to spiral into our own minds and experience pain. Do you think it’s a coincidence that extended solitary confinement is one of the highest forms of punishment in prison?
Find a way to get out into your community and volunteer in a way that utilizes a gift that you have to give.
You can ladle out soup at a soup kitchen. Or you could volunteer as a Big Brother to young men. Or give your time and attention to a rape relief shelter, animal shelter, or at an old folks home. Whatever you do, make sure that it means something to you personally. And give it your all when you are there.
Don’t be surprised if you leave your volunteer shifts with a huge, beaming smile plastered across your beautiful face.
5. Become a member of regular social clubs
People that struggle with feelings of loneliness would do well to find social containers that have built-in ongoing commitments to them. That way, you can say yes to one social event, and you might actually be saying yes to 52 social events per year (if it were a weekly group)!
Find a common interest group, hobbyist group, or women’s/men’s group in your area, and commit to it.
One of the most important things that I did for myself three years ago when I was doubling down on my social life was join a weekly men’s group (that I have now attended, every week, for the last three years). Knowing that, no matter how hermit-y of a week I had, I would always have a social container of 15-20 men who knew me and cared about me gave my life a buoyancy that I previously didn’t feel.
No men’s groups or common interest groups in your area that appeal to you? Did you really look closely? Alright, I trust you. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for, then the onus is on you to create the group you would most want to be in. Do that, put up a few flyers advertising your group in your city, and your people will find you.
Remember, Gandhi once said, “Be the men’s group facilitator you want to see in the world.” Or something like that.
The End Of Loneliness As You Know It
Long story short…
Extend to others. Be the social hub that you wish existed in your city. Put energy into this area of your life and it will pay off sooner than you think.
Build up your fire so that it burns so brightly that people can’t help but find it.
Everything else will take care of itself.
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. If you enjoyed this article, you will also love checking out: