I go to a hydrotherapy pool a few times a week to exercise. Normally I see the same people each time and most people just nod and say hello until one day I introduced myself and asked those close to me their names. As we talked a couple of other women from the other end of the pool joined us and everyone started talking to each other as we exercised. When I left that day they were still talking, and now, weeks later, most people in that pool talk to each other regularly. This social interaction has turned a chore into an enjoyable experience.
Graham Long, a pastor at Wayside Chapel said, “We used to live in a society and now we live in an economy” It’s sad that despite many improvements in the world we seem to have lost something special, the connection we have with one another. Mother Theresa said that loneliness is the greatest disease in the western world. We often think of loneliness as only affecting the elderly, and while it is true that many older people live alone and have little social contact, it is a problem that affects people in all age groups and from all walks of life.
One of the sad discoveries about loneliness is that it changes the structure of our brain. The more disconnected we become from others the less empathetic we are and we become less capable of handling criticism, this in turn can lead to depression. Chronic stress depresses our immune systems and increases the risk of asthma, autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Loneliness has been said to reduce our life span by 26%.
So how do we solve this problem?
Take a chance on being open. It’s not easy to risk rejection especially when you are feeling low but someone has to reach out like I did in my local pool. Even if you are not feeling lonely, make a practice of talking to strangers, or people you don’t know well, you don’t know how much of a difference you can make to their day.
One of the women who goes to my pool is a widow in her late seventies and she is booked to have knee replacement surgery. She was told by the anesthetist that the surgery is life threatening because of some other health conditions and she was in a quandary as to what to do because the pain was unbearable to live with. Now, imagine having this problem and having no one to talk it over with?
We need to start talking to each other. Rather than sending a text or email pick up the phone. If you know someone is busy, send them a text saying you’d like to talk and ask what would be a good time to call. If you don’t get a positive response from that person, reach out to another.
This is where many retirees who have more time can reach out to others and that doesn’t just have to be older people, we need to interact with all generations, this helps us become more accepting, and more open. Social media does not replace talking to another, some experts say that social media can be a form of self-medication.
Openness means telling the truth. A study carried out in 2012 discovered that the average person told 11 white lies a week, and when they were asked to refrain from lying for 10 weeks they experienced less physical and mental problems.
Sometimes we lie to not hurt someone’s feeling, or because it’s easier than speaking the truth. The fact is though that the more honest we are, in the nicest way possible, the better we feel about ourselves and the more other people learn they can trust us.
Martha Beck says that “intimacy increases with honesty. Share less to keep people away and more to draw them closer”.
Reassess why you are so busy? What I hear people say a lot of is how busy people are, how overwhelmed they feel. If you fit into this category pause and ask yourself ‘why?’ Are you filling your life up with activities that aren’t really important? Are you living a life that goes against your essential nature? Are you living your life to please someone else? Are you living beyond your means? What needs to change?
You were not born to struggle.
Loneliness decreases as We Become Happier
Being happy is the answer to many of life’s problems, especially loneliness. Richard Davidson, a well known researcher into mindfulness and meditation says, “Happiness is a skill, if we practice it we actually get better. Being kind to others is one of the strongest stimulants to happiness”.
Many years ago I made two decisions: that I would never allow myself to become cynical, and I would never give up on my dreams. Those decisions have helped me a lot, and even though life challenges me often, I just keep plugging away at doing what I know makes me happiest.
To be happy you need to feel good and have positive connections with others. Start connecting with others more through the simple act of smiling at everyone you pass. Smiling makes us feel happy and this feeling is contagious as most people automatically respond to a smile with a smile.
For more ideas on how to connect more check out my Be the Difference page.