The reality is that loneliness is a natural signal that our body gives us, similar to hunger, thirst. And that’s how important human connection is. Vivek Murthy, to Rachel Martin, NPR
“I found that people who struggle with loneliness, that that’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and even premature death,” Vivek Murthy, our next U.S. Surgeon General, declared in his interview with NPR. Murthy is the author of this year’s Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, an important book for these times.
As many as 22% of our population is experiencing loneliness, states Murthy, even if many don’t label it as such. Moreover, “There’s a tremendous sense of shame that people who are lonely feel. I say that as someone who felt ashamed of being lonely as a child and even at points during adulthood. I think part of the reason is that saying you’re lonely feels like saying you’re not likeable, you’re not lovable — that somehow you’re socially deficient in some way.”
To combat loneliness, we need to nurture three types of social connection: intimate relationships, friendships, and belonging within a larger community. Even as we fight off loneliness, he explains, we can still embrace solitude—a more positive state, where we can take time to reflect on and appreciate our lives. His book calls upon us all to do what we can to put our relationships first and to create institutions that support social connection. In that way, we’ll all be happier and healthier.
Additionally, Murthy’s publisher lists his “four key strategies” for combating loneliness:
- Spend time each day with those you love. Devote at least 15 minutes each day to connecting with those you most care about.
- Focus on each other. Forget about multitasking and give the other person the gift of your full attention, making eye contact, if possible, and genuinely listening.
- Embrace solitude. The first step toward building stronger connections with others is to build a stronger connection with oneself. Meditation, prayer, art, music, and time spent outdoors can all be sources of solitary comfort and joy.
- Help and be helped. Service is a form of human connection that reminds us of our value and purpose in life. Checking on a neighbor, seeking advice, even just offering a smile to a stranger six feet away, all can make us stronger.
Selected Quotes from Together
Loneliness is the subjective feeling that you’re lacking the social connections you need. It can feel like being stranded, abandoned, or cut off from the people with whom you belong—even if you’re surrounded by other people. What’s missing when you’re lonely is the feeling of closeness, trust, and the affection of genuine friends, loved ones, and community.
Intimate, or emotional, loneliness is the longing for a close confidante or intimate partner—someone with whom you share a deep mutual bond of affection and trust. Relational, or social, loneliness is the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support. Collective loneliness is the hunger for a network or community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests. These three dimensions together reflect the full range of high-quality social connections that humans need in order to thrive.
Solitude allows us to get comfortable being with ourselves, which makes it easier to be ourselves in interactions with others. That authenticity helps build strong connections.
Solitude, paradoxically, protects against loneliness.
...(T)his is the reality of being human, that we have the capacity to love people–family, friends, and strangers–even if we profoundly disagree with them.
What often matters is not the quantity or frequency of social contact but the quality of our connections and how we feel about them.
What is humanity, really, but a family of families?