By Georgianna Donadio, PhD – Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says of overcoming loneliness, “The more I’ve learned about happiness, the more I have come to believe that loneliness is a terrible, common and important obstacle [to happiness].”
We have all experienced loneliness in our lives. We know that it is an experience that is not about being alone. We can be by ourselves in solitude and never feel lonely. Or we can be with a crowd of people and feel completely, totally alone in the world.
If loneliness is not related to being alone, then what circumstances create this sad and sometimes debilitating feeling? How can we be proactive to avoid these circumstances and enrich our emotional lives with greater happiness?
ONLY THE LONELY
In a study conducted by the National Institute of Aging, researcher John T. Cacioppo notes: “The main psychological difference between lonely and non-lonely people is that the former perceive stressful circumstances as threatening rather than challenging and cope passively and withdraw from stress rather than trying to solve the problem.”
The study identified the relationship between those who score high for loneliness and those who have the highest blood pressure.
While about one in five Americans is reported to be lonely, a study from the British Mental Health Foundation shows Britain is currently in the grip of an “epidemic of loneliness.” This type of loneliness is described as a “patchwork of feeling unhappy, stressed out, friendless and hostile.”
Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, says: “Human beings are, of course, social animals, and we’ve evolved to live in extended family groups. If we’re not in a group like that we begin to feel anxious, depressed and begin to find it increasingly difficult to regulate our own behavior.”
Most studies on loneliness point to a lack of belonging, an absence of being valued, cared about and appreciated for our contributions to the group. As human beings, we have a need to belong with others and be part a community. Being with others in a meaningful way is identified as a key to eliminating loneliness. Mahatma Gandhi said: “The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
THE KEY TO OVERCOMING LONELINESS
By participating in activities that help others, giving of ourselves and serving those in need, we create meaningful relationships that provide us with purpose, fulfillment and greater happiness. Nourishing others has demonstrated the ability to eliminate loneliness and enhance our quality and enjoyment of life.
For a free download on creating excellent communication in relationships, visit www.changingbehavior.org.
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