We all feel lonely from time to time. For some people, especially the elderly, this is a real problem with serious health consequences. Increasingly, our society isolates people or people are just choosing to be alone.
Older people often have had spouses and friends die or move away. Illness, disability, loss of mobility, lack of reliable transportation, and financial issues can contribute to seniors being alone. And it’s not just the elderly that suffer. Some people feel lonely due to geographical isolation. If someone relocates to another country for a job, for example, they usually don’t bring their family and friends along. Bullied children, or anyone who doesn’t fit in with the dominant society where they live, can experience social isolation which results in painful loneliness.
Even the most introverted among us need to feel connected to others. It is at the core of what makes us human. When we feel connected to others, we are more confident, happier, and productive members of society.
Without that critical social connection, many suffer from health problems. According to research summarized in the Huffington Post UK, loneliness can shorten your lifespan and increase your risk of death from heart disease. Lonely people can easily become depressed or feel anxious.
How can we combat loneliness in ourselves and in others? It may be simpler than you realize. Getting a pet can immediately lower your risk of depression and instantly provide a companion. Volunteer. Join a club. Call up old friends. Make new friends.
The internet is also a great tool to increase connection with others. While the internet causes some people to isolate themselves further from society, it can help many people overcome debilitating loneliness. Finding an online community of like-minded people can be incredibly empowering, especially if you are currently living someplace where you don’t identify with the dominant values or lifestyle. It has never been easier to stay in contact with friends and family with the ubiquity of web-based tools like video chat and email.
If you currently feel happy and connected to others, that’s wonderful. You are in a great position to reach out to those who are not so fortunate. Do what you can to connect with others, especially the elderly. Volunteer at an old folks’ home, your local veterans’ hospital, or a nonprofit that delivers meals to the elderly. Call that crotchety, estranged relative, even if you don’t like them very much. Stay in touch, take the time to visit old friends and relatives, and be kind to strangers – it’s good for their health and yours.
Finally, helping people deal with loneliness is a mega-marketing opportunity for the new millennium. Study after study confirms that relationships are a key ingredient for lasting happiness. Focus your new energy on creating products and services that reduce loneliness, build relationships, and help others to be happy. The rewards will be both philanthropic and monetary.
John Bradley Jackson
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