Being Lonely in Today’s World
Today, I want to talk about what it means to be lonely in the world as we know it today.
Imagine being a farmhand in 1919, waking up to a spattering of noisy children and a busy wife. After dunking tea, you’d walk down to the fields to pick berries. As you go, there are dozens of neighbors chattering away to pass the time. In the evening, when you pass through the town, there is constant babble at the grocer’s or at the inn. Nobody’s on the phone while wearing earphones. There are no obvious distractions to hide behind.
Now, imagine yourself as an average office-goer today. Your day is spent working alone for hours, probably in front of a computer screen. You surf email during a coffee break. People talk in hushed tones but mostly, everyone’s about their own business.
The modern world is brimming with distracting devices: Kindles, laptops, iPhones, gaming consoles, noise-canceling headphones, chatting portals, etc.
Know the Global Statistics
Britain just appointed a Minister of Loneliness because over 1/4 of their population reports feeling “lonely often.” Are they overreacting? I believe not.
When I began researching loneliness, what caught my eye was the baffling number of people struggling with it. Instagram alone shows a whopping 6.6 million posts tagged with “lonely” and over 1 million posts tagged with “loneliness.” The statistics are distressing!
The Subtle Overcast: Know Your Loneliness Enhancers
Here are the major factors that make you lonely:
Lonely homes. Nuclear families replaced the extended family a few decades ago. Now, single-parent or single-person households are replacing nuclear families [1, 2]. What does this mean? Fewer children stay with their grandparents. Far fewer young adults live with parents. All that individual freedom comes at a price, though: We’ve isolated ourselves from immediate society.
Workplace environment. Most jobs today require you to be silent and focus on a task. We are all subtly encouraged to work “alone.” Coffee runs and lunch breaks are just that—brief pauses between long stretches of silence.
Market services. The tasks that earlier required you to get out of the house (and thus enabled you to have casual encounters with others) have been replaced with services available in the virtual market. There’s home delivery, net banking, business email, catering, working from home, and online shopping. You literally don’t have to leave the house anymore for anything.
Your Challenge: Ration Asocial Habits
These days, our schedules reflect activities that seem appealing in the moment but push us toward isolation in the long term. And because it’s so difficult to realize how we are exacerbating our lonely situation, I suggest that a good way to start is by analyzing your routine.
Make a list of habits that take up most of your waking time during a week (excluding work). I’m talking about things like three hours playing video games, nightly blogging, tennis sessions, or watching reruns of Friends.
Remember, this is not a test; it’s an analysis. Dig beneath the surface and be candid.
Answer the following questions for each activity:
1. Does it contribute to your physical or mental fitness?
2. Are you around others in real time, or do you feeling connected to others while doing it?
3. Is it making you inflexible or rigid?
4. Is anyone else directly benefiting from it?
I have designed this questionnaire to help you identify the habits that make you lonely in the long run.
The rule is simple: If it’s not making you fitter or feel more connected, if it’s making you inflexible and not serving anyone, it’s making you lonely. Ration it now.
The goal is to free your schedule from activities that gratify you while you’re doing them but isolate you in the long term.
Tomorrow, we’ll learn about the effect of loneliness on our brains from a psychological angle.
Share with friends