Each of us feels lonely at some point in our lives. This is especially true after the loss of a loved one or a major life change. For instance, individuals may be more prone to loneliness after a divorce, upon retirement, after switching to a remote position for work, and/or when becoming an empty nester. While some loneliness in life is inevitable, it can become a problem if it is left unaddressed. Chronic loneliness will inevitably take years out of our lives if we don’t start to connect with others.
In her 2017 New York Times bestselling book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, Brene Brown highlights the danger of unchecked loneliness. Referencing a meta-analysis of studies, Brown writes, “Living with air pollution increases your odds of dying early by 5 percent. Living with obesity, 20 percent. Excessive drinking, 30 percent. And living with loneliness? It increases our odds of dying early by 45 percent.”
So, first things first: an occasional lonely feeling is absolutely normal and will not drastically affect your mortality. It is highly expected that a person will experience loneliness at one time or another.
The antidote to loneliness is a connection. However, the solution is not finding 20 new best friends or adding 500 people to your social media accounts. A true connection stems from the quality of our relationships. Brown says, “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
If you find yourself feeling pervasive loneliness, ask yourself, “Is there anyone in my life who I can foster a connection with?” Perhaps you have a parent, a roommate, or childhood best friend you can reach out to. Invite them to share a meal or go for a walk. If you are a college student looking for more connection, check out the current social clubs on campus. And hey, if you don’t find the club you are looking for, start your own!
True connection means that everyone in the conversation has the chance to both listen and share.
Be sure to listen attentively to the person you are connecting with. It’s best to listen without any agenda. For example, instead of trying to figure out your responses to the conversation while the other person is talking, simply relax and listen. You can figure out the response when it is your turn to talk. Personally, I do my best to stay off my phone and other devices when I am trying to connect with others — it makes a world of difference.
As you seek more authentic connections in your life, be careful not to miss out on friendships because the other person is different than you. Be willing to reach out to other people, regardless of their age, race, political viewpoints, sexual orientation, ableism, or any other factors. You may find a quality connection in unexpected places — I know that I have!
Ultimately, human beings are designed for connection; we are hard-wired to depend on each other. Reach out to your friends, family, classmates, and co-workers. Chances are, they are just as much in need for authentic connection as you.