Are you lonely? You are not alone.
Recent studies suggest that about half of Americans feel lonely. Our networks, social interactions and relationships overall are steadily shrinking.
Some attribute this loneliness epidemic to our increased use of the Internet, smart phones and electronic media. Others attribute it to the individualistic mindset prevalent in our capitalist consumer culture. Still others attribute it to changes in our social structure: families separated geographically, a 50% divorce rate, forty-plus-hour workweeks, and more than half of American households consisting of one person.
Both singles and couples express this sentiment of loneliness, but with different possibilities for its resolve.
Singles believe that their loneliness will disappear once they are in relationship. Couples, on the other hand, believe that their loneliness would be resolved with a more intimate and available partner. Families believe their loneliness would disappear if they lived closer to their children.
Truth is, many of us feel lonely, whether alone, in relationship, in a group or in a crowd. Our experience of loneliness has nothing to do with the number of people we are around or not around. True intimacy and feelings of relatedness are much more about the quality of our relationships than the quantity.
According to Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., “Loneliness refers to the difference between the amount of social contact and intimacy you have and the amount you want.”
We have been trained in this culture to want more, to want what we don’t have, to keep searching outside of ourselves for that illusive something that will have us feel fulfilled, ecstatically happy and in love most, if not all, of the time. We constantly compare our “insides” to other people’s “outsides” as we scroll through social media and news feeds of people who appear to have it all, and feel more and more inadequate and isolated no matter what are our current living situation or station.
Our loneliness is both masked and exacerbated by social media where we have hundreds of friends, but no one to call to feed our cat or to hold us while we cry about a family member who is dying.
So what is the cure for loneliness?
Certainly one thing we can do, is to shift our thinking to one of appreciation and gratitude for what we DO have – to focus on where we are loved, where we do have connection, where we are socially fulfilled, where meaningful relating does happen in our lives. Noticing where we DO have what we want narrows the gap between where we are and what we would like more of. Taking on a daily practice of gratitude is crucial for mitigating loneliness. Christian and I express our gratitude and appreciation daily, and can vouch for its value!
Another thing we can do is to focus on refining our interpersonal and social skills. Improving our ability to engage in conversation, problem solve, make requests, give and receive compliments as well as feedback; communicate in positive ways non-verbally, be transparent about feelings and thoughts, and take responsibility for triggered reactions are all crucial skills to master for improving the overall quality of our relationships with others.
Taking a class or workshop or putting ourselves in environments where we get to learn and practice new skills with real people in live situations is ideal. Many people who attend our courses report not only feeling more connected, heart opened and inspired during our workshops, but more confident and engaging in life overall.
Expanding our circle of social support is also important to help us cope with unexpected life challenges and changing circumstances so we don’t need to go through life’s tough experiences alone. Spiritual communities, business networks, schools, volunteer organizations and personal development groups are places where we can foster meaningful connections with others.
Christian receives support from his ManKind Project community. We both enjoy lifelong friendships with fellow parents we cultivated during our children’s middle school years and our LoveWorks community is chalk full of wonderful men and women. These communities not only offer support to us when we need, but they likewise serve as places for us to grow, learn, and contribute to others – in and of itself deeply fulfilling.
We would do well being more proactive in increasing our opportunities for social interaction. You can invite people over for lunch or dinner, host a party, organize an outing, take a dance class, attend an event, arrange a games night…. In other words, put down the remote, get off the couch and create opportunities to meet other people in organized group activities. Christian and I find that we thrive when we step out of our comfort zone and go out of our way to meet up with people. Our favorites are inviting people over for coffee, taking dance classes, and hosting groups at our house.
Being of service and giving to others in need is another way to curb our loneliness and fill our soul cup. Volunteering to help at a soup kitchen, collecting clothes to fire victims, bringing a fresh cooked meal to a bereaved neighbor – activities like these allow us to escape our myopic self-focus and express the love in our hearts, and often puts our own problems in proper perspective. Not only that, but we build community connections when we work together with others for a common purpose.
Christian and I have joined a community work group with several other families. Once a month we gather at the host family’s property to work on whatever projects they need help with. A couple of weeks ago, some ten of us donated a day to a woman who was in great need for home clean up and repairs. We have handed out hamburgers to the homeless in Berkeley; we’ve visited and sung at nursing homes, or fostered kittens in our home. Nothing satisfies us more than being of useful help to others. It’s a powerful and quick acting cure for loneliness and meaninglessness.
Lastly, and probably the most important of all, we can change our dysfunctional, negative thinking, in turn creating new actions and behaviors. Research reveals that over time, “chronic loneliness makes us increasingly sensitive to, and on the lookout for, rejection and hostility.” Lonely people get caught up in negative thinking about themselves and others, and have a bleak view of the future. “Lonely people don’t expect things to go well for them, and consequently, they often don’t.”
To get off the negative thinking train, we need to work diligently to improve our mood. As one teacher I worked with once said, “Mood is everything!” Certainly the gratitude practice we mentioned earlier will help with this, as will a support network, increased social interactions and effective relationship skills. We can also help ourselves with motivational talks, books, phone calls, songs, mentors, coaches, inspiring leaders and uplifting friends to support us in that endeavor.
Christian and I wrote up a declaration to read out loud to each other when we were hit with fear, despair and loneliness. And playing loud uplifting songs of triumph were great for reminding us of who we wanted to be and what we were capable of during lonely and hard times.
Loneliness is solvable, but we need to change ourselves from the inside out into people who are capable of reaching out and connecting with others. Loneliness is a habit of isolation. We need to step outside our comfort zones into new territory, need to risk sharing ourselves transparently with others and create intimate relationships if we are to nip loneliness in the bud.
Diana did just that when she attended our Give Yourself to Love Training. She was lonely and depressed and in the middle of a break-up. Now she is happy and flying high on love. “You are a HUGE part of my growth. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t connected with you & your incredible, magical work. I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you for your sweet love. I cherish it!”
Loneliness isn’t a death sentence. It is a call to step out and take a risk in the direction of connection!
I will end with a touching post from a friend of mine who recently lost her husband to ALS and her mother to pancreatic cancer within two weeks of each other. She was feeling lonely and lost, but took this leap towards connection.
Her post was titled, I am beginning to fall in love. “ and she continued, “Today I attended my first bereavement group. In addition to the facilitator and two hospice workers, there were seven of us in grief… What hit me was the huge love that I felt for these people with whom I had only spent 90 minutes. Their deep grief reflected their deep love, which echoed all my own love and grief, but in their own ways… having their own signatures. It was all so palpable, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I sincerely look forward to having my heart raw and open to these courageous people for the next ten weeks. And in spite of any judgment that arises, being in the huge presence – experiencing the inner explosion – of Love.”
If she can do it, you can do it.
Reach out. Make a connection this holiday.
Sonika & Christian
P.S. Our intro workshop is called Give Yourself to Love for a reason. It’s a weekend that will open your heart, connect you with others and/or your partner, teach you invaluable relationship skills and remind you that you are not alone. For singles and couples.
Until Christmas, we’re offering an amazing 2-for-1 special. Details here …