Earlier this month, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report called the “Epidemic of Loneliness” and advised on the “Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community”. In a nutshell, people are lonelier than ever, and since social connection and community are the most important indicators of happiness, lonely people need to create more connection in their lives to be happier.
The “how” is not one size fits all. What triggers loneliness in one person may be very different from what provokes it in another. For example, if you see some happy friends hitting a bar every night, you may assume that socializing often will keep you from being lonely. Yet, if you are more introverted and in your heart prefer less frequent, deeper connections, you will likely feel just as lonely trying to party on the daily as you would never leaving your sofa. On the flipside, your ideal of talking intimately with one friend for hours, might leave another person still hungry for more.
At Human Better EDU, Friends & Community is one of 12 Areas of Life that we look at when helping people design a happy life. We coach all of our clients to identify their dream relationships and then to evaluate how their current ones stack up to that dream. Getting honest about what YOU need to feel less lonely is the compulsory first step. Then what?
If you want to be less lonely this summer, we suggest four simple steps:
1. Write out that dream for your community and friendships.
- How often do you spend time with people?
- What activities do you do with your friends?
- What do you bring to and what do you gain from your connections?
- What does it feel like to be with your friends and to be part of that community?
- What types of people bring out the best in you?
Write it all down in the present tense as if it has already come true. This is your north star; you can re-read it for inspiration every time you feel lonely or feel lazy about reaching out.
2. Write out all the reasons you are not living that dream. What obstacles are in the way such as time, distance, difficulty meeting new people… Be honest about why you are not happier in this area of your life.
3. Identify three promises you can make to yourself every week to build those friendships and that dream community. You may have to push right past the obstacles you described above, such as carving out time in your busy schedule to connect with friends or putting yourself out there even when you feel shy. Examples of helpful promises include:
- Reach out to three friends every week to check in, send an article of interest, share a story or ask to get together.
- Make a list of places you can meet new people and visit one every week.
- Plan a weekend gathering with old friends for sometime in the next six months.
4. Commit to these promises! Imagine if you did these three things for three straight months. These little, weekly actions build a life of social connection and community, and certainly put loneliness in its place.
One last, utterly essential component: be yourself! We often feel lonely when we are trying to be someone we are not, because fake connections leave us feeling disconnected and disconnection is a root of loneliness. So be honest, be authentic, and be your true self when building friendships and community.
As Atlantic Magazine points out, “Loneliness has a physical effect on the body. It can render people more sensitive to pain, suppress their immune system, diminish brain function, and disrupt sleep… loneliness is far more dangerous than obesity.” That seems like a good enough reason to text a friend on the double!