There is a thread of loneliness running through the fabric of American life. Dr. Robert Weiss, a sociologist who has studied the causes and effects of loneliness, says it is “more common than colds in winter.” One study found that one in nine American adults, and one in four unmarried adults felt “very lonely.”
Why are we, a nation of people living side by side often in crowded locales, lonely? The source may lie in the values of our modern culture. Human beings need to form attachments to other human beings. One fundamental essential is the need for an emotional partner, a “significant other.” But this need is often hard to fill in a culture that doesn’t value marriage, committed relationships, or even emotional intimacy.
We need other kinds of attachments as well. We need friends, people who value us as individuals, and who want to spend time with us. Here again, our culture is often out of sync with our basic human needs. We may be in communities where people are valued only if they meet shallow cultural ideals of physical beauty and financial success. And, no one seems to have enough time to give to anyone else. So, we remain lonely.
Another reason for our loneliness is that we have the basic need to be part of a stable community. But, communities today are often in a constant state of change, shifting with the economy and a mobile population.
What are the negative effects of our cultural loneliness? Unhappiness, tension, anxiety, frustration, discontent, and a sense of not being connected to others. There is a physical impact as well: studies indicate that lonely people may have impaired immune-system functions, and are more vulnerable to colds and illness.
To overcome the loneliness of our culture, each of us needs to act in some counter-cultural ways. We need to reach out to become friends with our neighbors and acquaintances, to spend time getting to know them. We need to repair and maintain our close relationships and commit to keeping them healthy and to find ways to help others in our communities.
Finally, we need to be active participants in building communities that warmly welcome and stay connected to the people who live in them.
Based in Rockport, life coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches people to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at Susanbritt1@verizon.net or 978-546-9431.