The Science of Loneliness and How to Win over it.
A few days back I was talking with one of my college friends over the phone. We were asking about each other's life and how everything is going. He said ‘Everything is good but I am feeling lonely here most of the times’.
At first, I didn’t take it seriously. In fact, I told him ‘ you are surrounded by so many people, your family, your new friends, and many others, how can you feel lonely. On the contrary, I should feel lonely because I don’t have my family, people whom I used to adore once are not with me.’
His voice became numb. He said ‘I don’t know. After we left college, everything changed. As if I have entered into a new planet to live. I no longer had deeper conversations with anyone, I rarely laugh wholeheartedly like before. These days I feel empty from inside’.
My mood changed from a light conversation to a serious one. Anyway, I told him things will be better with time.
Honestly, I was shocked a little bit. I knew him in college. He was not one of those socially awkward or a bashful guy. He used to shout, laugh a lot, and enjoy conversations with others. How come such a guy can say ‘ I feel empty from inside’. What changes in just 4–5 years.
People have asked me multiple times ‘ don’t you feel lonely living far away from home?’
Their question is really valid. I know that feeling when you leave your village or hometown and come to a new city for whatever reason. I had been in multiple places (away from home) for study, so I had that feeling multiple times.
When you move to a new city, there are strangers everywhere you look around. There is no one to sit next to you and hear your story. Loneliness comes naturally in those times.
But it’s very normal on such occasions to feel a little lonely. With time everything becomes normal, we make new friends, we explore new places, food, people. Life becomes interesting again. This is a type of loneliness occurs due to external reasons and it’s very temporary (unless you don’t want to make friends or explore anything).
Loneliness is part of our biology, just like hunger. Hunger makes you feel the attention to your physical needs, you need to eat to quench hunger. Similarly, loneliness makes you pay attention to your social needs.
And this is due to our evolution, in the earlier times when our ancestors were in jungles, our social needs were a great indicator of how likely we were to survive. Natural selection rewarded us for collaboration, for forming connections with each other.
Had we not formed connections with each other, we wouldn’t be alive today. Being together meant survival. This is precisely one of the reasons why humans are unique. We can form groups of large numbers. We can make meaningful connections with each other.
And today we are in the most connected time of history. People from different corners of the world can be friends today.
But alas, the data shows something else. More than 300 million people are suffering from depression all over the world, and most of the time depression arises from a feeling of loneliness. India is the leader of the list. Yes, India is the most depressed country in the world with every 1 among 6 people is depressed. Surprisingly people in the age group of 18–34 are most depressed.
The irony is-
“We are living in the most connected time of history
Yet, an unprecedented number of us feel lonely”
Wait, a few minutes back I said loneliness is the part of our biology and now I am saying loneliness has led to depression for a huge number of people.
Isn’t this sounds contradicting?
No, the type of loneliness I talked above appears due to external reasons like no one is there to sit near you during lunch or no one is there to play with you. This happens when you move to a new place as I said.
With time such loneliness disappears as we start making new friends, making connections with others.
But what about those occasions when you are surrounded by a huge number of people, your friends and yet you feel the ache of emptiness. This loneliness is the invention of the modern human race. And it is due to our internal dissatisfaction or our inability to be at ease with ourselves.
Psychologists define such loneliness as-
‘the psychological consequences of having a gap between the support and social interaction you’d like and what you are getting actually.’
Moreover, loneliness is a state of mind (just like happiness). If you are feeling lonely, you are lonely.
The most stereotype about loneliness is that ‘people who feel lonely don’t know how to talk to people or how to behave with others’. But you know this is not true. Scientific studies have also proved this. ( Link to the study).
In fact, social skills make no difference when it comes to social connections. Studies have found that lonely people have superior social skills ( Read here about it).
So it’s not like if your friend is more famous, beautiful, or have better social skills, she/he will not feel lonely.
The scary thing is, loneliness which arises due to our internal mismanagement is very lethal. It’s like smoking a packet of cigarettes every day, Surely, way more harmful than what you thought. I don’t want to talk in detail about that. You can just see the video below to get some idea-
If you read about the evolution of humankind from living in jungles to the agricultural revolution to the industrial revolution then finally to the digital revolution, it becomes clear why more and more people suffer from loneliness nowadays.
Our biology is designed in such a way that it wants connection. That’s how our brain grew and became more and more fine-tuned to recognize what others thought and felt, and to form more sustainable social bonds.
Earlier human used to live together in groups, they used to take care of each other. There used to be joint families. Communities that existed before began to dissolve especially after the industrial revolution.
Today people leave their homes in search of a job, education, business, etc. So the number of connections with people we make today is far less today. Remember, not making strong social bonds is against our biology and in that way, we are more prone to fall in the trap of loneliness.
You might be thinking-
How can I save myself from loneliness?
Being in different places at different points of my life, I can tell you from my personal experience what has helped me to stay away from the vicious cycle of loneliness.
1. Accept your feeling
If you don’t know the problem, you can’t cure it. Yes, I felt lonely every time I visited a new place. Everybody feels lonely at some point in their life. It’s a universal human experience. Accepting the feeling of loneliness will open the doors to cure it.
2. Write it down
I know it sounds silly but I told this before also (in my previous articles). You don’t have to be a fancy writer to write something. Whatever you feel lonely, just take a pen and paper and write about your feelings. Why you are feeling lonely? What are your views on it? What can you do to remove this?
You will be amazed by the kind of clarity you will achieve after doing this. Yes, not always it will cure your loneliness completely but for sure it will make you feel better.
3. Become self-aware
Maybe you are focusing too much on negative things or getting affected by your negative colleague. You can examine what your focus your attention on, and check if you are selectively focusing on negative things.
Do you make negative judgments about people even without meeting them ever?
Do you assume others don’t want you around?
If your outlook towards the world, towards your life, is negative, you are more prone to loneliness. Introspection is a great way to prevent loneliness.
4. Become interested in people
This was my problem in my teenage years. I used to think ‘ I will only talk when somebody shows interest in me’ until I read Dale Carnegie's ‘How to win friends and influence people’ book. Become interested in people is one of the greatest pieces of advice I ever got.
If you like someone, just go and ask him interesting questions about himself. I promise you will be amazed by the number of meaningful connections you will make.
5. Prioritize quality over quantity
I am sure you must have seen people who instead of having many friends, feel lonely most of the time. Yes, we should make connections with people but not necessarily with everyone. You won’t like many people and many people won’t like you. That’s normal.
I always believed, having 2 good friends is better rather than having 10 average friends. You must make meaningful connections with people who will be beside you at the time of diversity. Otherwise, what’s the point of having friends. Make less but make better connections.
6. Have an explorer mindset
If you are curious about life, I bet you will rarely feel lonely. Actually you won’t have time to feel lonely. Just imagine, do you think Leonardo da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin felt depressed anytime? There is hardly any chance.
They were so curious, so busy doing different things that their minds always wonder about new ideas, new possibilities.
When you have an explorer mindset, you will find something interesting in nothing. Now, every time you go to a new place, you become curious about people, food, weather, the culture there.
7. Transform loneliness into solitude
This is the most important part of this entire article. You cannot always avoid loneliness (even if follow everything written above). Sometimes it is inevitable.
What will happen when your loved one dies?
You will be in grief. Naturally, you want to isolate yourself from everyone.
What will you do in such a situation?
Remember, being alone and being lonely are two completely different things.
“ Just like you can be sad even in presence of crowd around you,
you can be blissfull even in the absence of crowd around you “
why do we like someone?
Because of various reasons. Maybe that person makes me laugh, he/she is cute, knowledgeable, has good social skills, etc.
In another way, I like someone due to blah, blah reasons. I feel good because of his something. We are dependent on someone else for feeling good. We try to extract something out of that person for feeling happy. We behave like beggars who always want something out of that person. Naturally, when that person one day leaves or behave another way, our good feeling also vanishes. Because our good feeling was linked with some behavior of that person. Then we feel lonely, as if, someone has destroyed our world.
The day you realize that we are responsible for every emotion we are going through, be it joy, misery, ecstasy, or loneliness, you stop depending on others.
It’s not like we then no longer need connections with people. We will make connections with people but now we become a giver instead of a beggar. People want to make a connection with you because now you are the source of joy.
Remember nobody wants to be with a miserable person, everyone wants joyful people in their life. Only when your own cup is full, you can share that with others. When you are ecstatic, you can share that with others.
“Become joy, don’t seek joy”
Jim Carrey once said-
If you want to make your life meaningful, you must enjoy your own company. The great scientist, Nikola Tesla also said the same thing-
See loneliness is not that bad if you only know how to transform it into solitude. Loneliness is like giving full freedom to yourself. You can do whatever you want to do. Either you will become more creative or you will be scared, watching no one is around you. The only thing to think about is- Do you know how to use that freedom for your good cause?
I am finishing this article with this quote-
Have a meaningful week. Until next time. Joy
Originally published at http://joyexcel.com on November 17, 2019.