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10 Ideas to Help With Loneliness

Have you ever been lonely in a crowd? Have you ever been perfectly content all alone? Me too. And I have also suffered from loneliness.

Loneliness is a complex mental and emotional phenomenon that has at its base a powerful emotion that has survival value for children. All of us have experienced some degree of abandonment, if only for a short time, and remember the painful and scary feeling that goes along with it.

Whenever we are reminded of this feeling or anticipate it in the future, we get a twinge of abandonment distress that we experience as loneliness. This can happen among a crowd of friends or even after making love. It can be pretty confusing and can put you off your game if you don’t know what’s going on.

Here are some tips for recognizing loneliness for what it is and dealing with it in the healthiest ways.

1. Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact. When you are feeling lonely, it is because something has triggered a memory of that feeling, not because you are in fact, isolated and alone. The brain is designed to pay attention to pain and danger, and that includes painful scary feelings; therefore loneliness gets our attention.

But then the brain tries to make sense of the feeling. Why am I feeling this way? Is it because nobody loves me? Because I am a loser? Because they are all mean? Theories about why you are feeling lonely can become confused with facts. Then it becomes a bigger problem so just realize that you are having this feeling and accept it without over reacting.

2. Reach out because loneliness is painful and can confuse you into thinking that you are a loser, an outcast. You might react by withdrawing into yourself, your thoughts, and your lonely feelings and this is not helpful. At its best, anticipation of loneliness might motivate us to reach out and cultivate friendships, which is the healthiest thing to do if you are sad and alone. When you are a child, and your sadness causes you to cry, you may evoke a comforting response from others. If you’re an adult, not so much.

3. Notice your self deflating thoughts.  We often create self centered stories to explain our feelings when we are young, it is not unusual for children to assume that there is something wrong with them if they are not happy. If they are lonely and sad, children may assume other people don’t like them when this is rarely the case.

Victims of bullying may well have fans and friends, but they often aren’t aware of it because the shame and loneliness get more attention. Habitual assumptions about social status continue into adulthood and if you are looking for evidence that the world sucks, you can always find it.

4. Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness. If you realize you are dealing with an emotional habit, you can make a plan to deal with loneliness. Since healthy interaction with friends is good, make some effort to reach out to others, to initiate conversation and face time even when your loneliness and depression are telling you not to. Yes, it is work, but it is worthwhile, just like exercising is worthwhile even when you are feeling tired or lazy.

5. Focus on the needs and feelings of others, the less attention on your lonely thoughts and feelings. I can walk down the street thinking about myself, my loneliness and the hopelessness of it all, staring at the sidewalk and sighing to myself. Or I can walk down the street grateful for the diversity of people I get to share the sidewalk with, silently wishing them good health and good fortune, and smiling at each person I meet. The latter is more fun, even though I sometimes have to remind myself to do it on purpose.

6. Find others like you. Now days there are more tools than ever before to find out where the knitters, hikers or kiteboarders are congregating so that you can get together with those who share your interests. This makes it much easier to identify groups with which you will have something in common, a natural basis for beginning a friendship.

7. Always show up when meeting up with others. You don’t have to run for president of the knitters society at your first meeting. But you do have to show up. I have been telling others to practice yoga for 20 years and promising I would do it myself for just as long, but except for the occasional coincidental yoga offering at a retreat, I didn’t take the trouble of finding a class I could attend regularly until a month ago. Now I am enjoying it and it wasn’t that hard. I have put a reminder in my phone to resign from the procrastinator’s society.

8. Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause. Each time you show up is an experiment, a micro adventure in social bonding. If you are curious about and interested in others, they will be attracted to you because you are giving them attention. So you will get attention in return. Curiosity about others also takes your focus away from those painful feelings that tend to make you hide and sulk.

9. Kindness goes a long way. “There’s nobody here but us chickens.” This is one of my favorite lines from The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas. Underneath the impressive facades of the high fliers are the same set of emotions we all are born with. Celebrities suffer from stage fright and depression too.

You have the power to offer loving kindness and generosity of spirit to all you come into contact with. It isn’t instinctual to be kind to strangers or people who scare you. But it is a choice. It is a choice that Jesus and Ghandi used intentionally. And in the long run it is a winning choice. The alternative, being mean or stingy with those you don’t know well, can get you a reputation as a Scrooge.

10. Be persistent even if a particular group does seem to be a dead end for you, try another. AA and AlAnon recommend that everyone try six different groups to find one that suits you best. If you are persistent, challenging the assumptions and feelings that tell you to give up and resign yourself to a life of loneliness, and showing up and being curious and kind to others and more and more groups, the odds are in your favor.

And once you have a friend or two, nourish those friendships with time and attention. Don’t be too cautious about whether you are giving more than you are getting at first. If you make more friends and some of them are takers, you can choose to spend more time with the friends who reward your friendship.

Brock Hansen     YourTango     8 Jul 2018

 

loneliness

 

Mindfulness and its proven impact on loneliness: What you should know

(BPT) – Maybe you know someone who stands by taking five minutes each morning to meditate or finds time after lunch to quiet his or her mind and focus on breathing. Whatever the method may be, incorporating “mindfulness” practices into your life can have a wide range of positive health benefits like improving your memory, sleep and immune system; reducing stress and feelings of loneliness and increasing compassion toward others and yourself.

Mindfulness means taking time to pay attention to yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Read on to learn how you can put mindfulness into practice in your life to help improve your overall health.

How to make mindfulness a routine part of your day.

  1. Find five to ten minutes each day to sit quietly and focus on your breath. (Helpful hint: Put your phone on silent or in another room so you can concentrate!) Take the time to notice where your mind goes and how your body is feeling. You just might find that this helps you focus and prioritize your day.
  2. Before you go to bed take time to focus on the good things that happened that day. Write your thoughts down in a journal. Writing them down can help you deliberately recognize the positive, even on a tough day.
  3. Search for “mindfulness apps” on your smartphone or tablet that lead you in a mindfulness exercise. For many people, using an app is an easy way to remain consistent with the practice. And many of these apps are free!

Feeling lonely? Mindfulness can help.

Mindfulness has been shown to help older adults overcome a silent but urgent health issue: loneliness. It is estimated that more than half of adults age 65 and over regularly experience moderate to severe loneliness. Loneliness is characterized by a marked difference between someone’s desired companionship and actual relationships. Through unique studies conducted by UnitedHealthcare and AARP, researchers are applying the techniques of mindfulness to help combat loneliness in older adults.

Loneliness poses a serious threat to the quality of life for older adults. It is linked to negative health outcomes such as higher risk of dementia, mortality and disability.

“The health risk of chronic loneliness, in older adults, is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and has a greater impact on mortality than obesity,” said Dr. Charlotte Yeh, M.D., chief medical officer, AARP Services Inc. “That is why UnitedHealthcare and AARP Services Inc. are collaborating to identify actionable solutions, geared for any individual across the spectrum of loneliness.”

Researchers looked at whether mindfulness interventions, like breath awareness, self-compassion and kindness exercises, could positively impact a person’s optimism and quality of life — all factors that help reduce loneliness.

Conclusions were encouraging: Mindfulness activities were shown to decrease loneliness among older adults. The research demonstrated that mindfulness reduced stress, and improved memory, sleep, the immune system, resiliency and compassion for self and others.

Although loneliness is complex and challenging to address, a mindfulness practice may help you live your best life.

Friday, June 28, 2019                Brandpoint 


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Does Living Alone Increase Mental Health Risk?

A new study has concluded that living alone is linked to common mental disorders. The authors have also identified the main driver of this worrying relationship.

Some common mental disorders (CMDs) include mood disorders, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

According to some studies, almost one-third of people will experience a CMD in their lifetime.

These conditions can have a significant impact on the individual, of course, but due to their high prevalence, they also affect society at large.

Due to the widespread influence of CMDs, scientists are keen to understand the full range of risk factors that feed into mental health.

In recent years, scientists have investigated whether living alone might be one such risk factor.

A new study, the results of which now appear in the journal PLOS ONE, takes a fresh look at this question. The study authors conclude that there is a link between living alone and CMDs. They also find that it affects all age groups and sexes, and that primarily, loneliness is the driver.

Living alone

The number of people living alone is steadily growing throughout much of the Western world; this is due to a number of reasons, including the aging population, people tending to get married at an older age, and increased divorce rates.

Researchers have already looked at the relationship between CMDs and living alone, but most have focused on older adults, so their findings may not apply to other age groups.

Also, earlier studies generally focused on just one mental condition: depression. This might not provide the full picture.

Previous work has also not quantified how other factors influence this relationship; for instance, people who live alone are more likely to be overweight, smoke, use drugs, and lack social support. So which of these, if any, is the main driver of CMDs?

The authors of the new study aimed to fill in some of these gaps. They looked for links between living alone and CMDs in general, and they investigated which factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.

 

Looking at the data

To investigate, scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data from 20,503 adults, ages 16–74, living in England. The data came from three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys that experts conducted in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Participants completed Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires, which assessed whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

The surveys also collated data on a range of variables, including height and weight, level of education, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support, and feelings of loneliness.

As expected, the authors found that the number of people living alone has steadily grown. In 1993, 8.8% lived alone. This is compared with 9.8% in 2000 and 10.7% in 2007.

Their analysis also showed that across all age groups and sexes, there was a significant association between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was fairly similar across the three surveys.

CMDs were more common in those living alone than those not living alone:

1993: 19.9% vs. 13.6%
2000: 23.2% vs. 15.5%
2007: 24.7% vs. 15.4%

The trouble with loneliness

When the scientists delved deeper into the relationship between CMDs and living alone, they found that loneliness explained 84% of the association.
Earlier studies had shown that loneliness is linked with depression and anxiety. Others still had investigated whether loneliness might increase mortality risk.
During what some experts call a “loneliness epidemic,” this finding is particularly important. Similarly, because ill mental health is a growing concern, understanding the risk factors associated with CMDs might help turn the tide.
Of course, not everyone who lives alone is lonely. However, for those who are, interventions to tackle loneliness are available. These may include talking therapies, social care provisions, and animal-based interventions.
The next and most challenging step is to find ways to ensure that people in need get access to these tools.
The researchers acknowledge certain limitations to the study. For instance, this was a cross-sectional study, meaning that it looked at a snapshot of people at one point in time. The authors call for longitudinal studies to ascertain how this relationship might play out over time.
As with any study of this nature, assessing cause and effect is not possible: Did a person develop a CMD because they lived alone, or did they develop a CMD and then decide to live alone?
Or, perhaps, someone with a predisposition for CMDs is more likely to want to live alone. As ever, scientists will need to carry out more work to fill in the gaps.
Earlier findings back up these results, but the new findings also go a few steps further; they show that the relationship between mental health and living alone is stable across time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a pivotal role.
Thursday 2 May 2019       By Tim Newman Fact checked by Jasmin Collier


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How to Stay Mentally Healthy During the Holidays

Do the holidays stress you out? You’re not alone. It’s a hectic time of year for many people, maybe even most people.

Nothing about our usual daily life goes away. The holidays add a layer of activities and responsibilities, both real and imagined, that take up time, money and emotional energy. Even if we enjoy many aspects of the season, there may well be moments when we wish we could rewind the calendar to somewhere in the middle of August.

I can’t reverse the calendar, but I can remind you of some strategies for maintaining your sanity during this most pressured time of year.

  • Recognize that the people in your life are who they are. It is not new information who will be the Scrooge, who will drink too much, who will have unrealistic expectations or who will be generous to a fault. No one is going to change just because it’s the holidays. Let go of the idea you can change anyone who bugs you. Find constructive ways to minimize their impact on your life. Put your energy and time into those who know how to love and whose presence makes you happy.
  • Give yourself permission to let some things go. Take a moment each morning to gather your thoughts. Make a list of all the things you have to do and want to do. Check off the two or three items that are really important to you. Let yourself entertain the idea of letting go of many of the others — or at least reducing them in some way. Many of us make our own stress by buying into the “have to’s.”
  • Take time every day to enjoy something about the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of decorating and shopping and baking and wrapping. But are you enjoying any of it? Stop. Breathe. Take a few minutes to enjoy the decorations on the lampposts or to really look at the lights. Savor one of the cookies. Inhale the warm smells coming from your oven. Wrapping a gift can be just another chore or it can be a way to quietly celebrate what the intended receiver means to you.
  • Take care of yourself. We should do this all the time but it’s especially important to get enough sleep, to eat right, and to get some exercise every day when stressed. Self-care is not an “extra,” even though it may seem to take too much time. Time invested in yourself each day will more than pay off in your general sense of well-being throughout the season.
  • Everything in moderation. Be mindful of your own tipping points when it comes to holiday indulgences. You already know your limits for alcohol and sweets. Listen to your own good sense and you’ll avoid waking up with regret, a hangover or an extra five pounds.
  • Stick to your budget. Forty-five percent of those polled in a recent survey done by Think Finance (a provider of payday loans) said that the financial stress of the holidays makes them wish they could skip the whole thing. This was true across all income levels. Yes, it’s difficult to resist the commercialism, the hype, the buy, buy, buy messages that are everywhere. But it’s important to remind ourselves that overspending is not the only way to express love. Gifts that are made by the giver often are more meaningful and treasured than anything that comes from a store. Spending quality time with someone sometimes is the best present of all.
  • Reach out. Lonely? Being alone, far from family or without one during the holidays is a key source of stress for many people. Connect with friends and plan some activities that celebrate the season — even if it’s just enjoying a peppermint stick in a cup of tea. Attend your house of worship and stay if there is a coffee hour. Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering at a soup kitchen or charity event for needy children. Being in a festive atmosphere with other good people who are doing good work is a great antidote for loneliness.
  • Do random acts of kindness. Get into the season of giving. Let someone else have that parking space near the store. Compliment the harried store clerk. Let the mom who is shopping with kids go ahead of you in line. Be generous with street musicians. Doing good will make you feel good — or at least better.
  • Be grateful. Research has shown that taking the time to be grateful every day has enormous physical and mental health benefits. It helps build our immune systems, keeps us in touch with the positive aspects of life, and connects us with others. So keep a holiday gratitude journal. From now until the New Year take a few minutes every day to write down at least three things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge events. Sure. If you win the lottery tomorrow, you can be grateful for that. But short of such a windfall, we can be grateful for having enough food to eat or for getting a phone call from a friend or for the neighbor whose holiday lights make us smile.

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The holiday season may be busy, but it doesn’t have to drive us insane. We do have the ability to bring down the stress and bring up the joy. After all, the best gift we can give ourselves and those around us is our own peace of mind.


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Simply looking at a photo of someone you love can help relieve pain.

  • Scientists usually omit left-handed people from tests because their brain works differently.

 

  • Pretending you don’t have feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness can literally destroy you mentally.

  • Chocolate milk was invented in Jamaica.

 

Happy Friday!
source: @Fact


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Loneliness Even Unhealthier Than Obesity

Loneliness Even Unhealthier Than Obesity, Should Be A Public Health Priority: Psychologist

Loneliness should be a major public health concern, according to an American psychologist.

Loneliness is a major health risk, like obesity or smoking, and public health programs should address it in the same way, says a psychologist.

New research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, found that social isolation contributes as strongly to mortality as does smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“This is something that we should all be taking seriously for our health,” she said.

Holt-Lunstad’s research, presented at a conference of the American Psychological Association, analyzed studies on mortality risk to find out how feelings of social isolation and loneliness compared to other risk factors. She found that it has a greater effect than obesity or exercise.

Having few social connections is associated with various health effects, she said, such as cardiovascular problems, immune response, cognitive decline, and cellular aging, she said. But having other people around helps in other ways too: people are more likely to take their medication, to exercise, and to visit the doctor with encouragement from others.

“Our relationships help provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life. And that can translate to better self-care as well as less risk-taking,” said Holt-Lunstad.

Isolation

It’s an important message at a time when more Canadians than ever are living alone – one of the risk factors examined by Holt-Lunstad in her research.

Census data shows that 28.2 per cent of Canadian adults lived alone in 2016 – the highest proportion since Confederation. And, for the first time, this was the most common household type in the country.

This is partly due to Canada’s aging population, according to Statistics Canada, though more than one-in-10 Canadians under 60 also lives alone.

But everyone can feel the effects of loneliness, said Holt-Lunstad.

“We tend to assume that this is an issue that may be specific to older adults or the elderly, and while of course, that population is important to consider, it’s not isolated to that group,” she said.
“When we look across the data, this affects both men and women. We don’t see any effect in terms of it being stronger in older age and in fact, we have some evidence to suggest that it may be stronger in those under 65.”

 

Until the age of 60, men are more likely than women to live by themselves. This reverses after 60, likely due to men’s lower average life span, meaning there are lots of widowed women. More than half of women over 85 are living alone, according to census data.

A recent survey of seniors by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons found that more than 16 per cent of respondents reported lacking companionship. Fourteen per cent said they have nobody to talk to.

And another survey by the Vancouver Foundation in 2012 found that 25 per cent of residents of that city said they were alone more often than they would like to be.

Public health programs

Holt-Lunstad would like to see information about the effects of loneliness be included in public health programs in the same way information about the dangers of smoking or obesity is.

“I’ve heard people say things like, ‘You can’t put good relationships in the water.’ Or, ‘We can’t legislate that like we may be able to do with a Clean Air Act,’” she said. While that’s true, she believes people should prioritize their relationships in the same way that many have started to do with regular exercise.

“If we approach it as we can all be working on nurturing and fostering our own relationships, this may have a much broader population-wide impact.”

She also believes that research about the health impacts of loneliness should be included in medical training so that doctors can screen their patients for social isolation and provide information when needed. Kids should also learn about relationships the same way that they learn about nutrition, as a way to prevent future problems.

Holt-Lunstad’s research will be published next month in the journal The American Psychologist.


By Leslie Young   National Online Journalist, Investigative       Global News


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The Solution to Millennial Loneliness

How do we stop being so lonely?

On a cold, moonless night, the co-owner of Macy’s department store and his wife were aboard the sinking Titanic. Mrs. Straus distributed blankets to the women and children in Life Boat No. 8. But, when asked to enter the lifeboat herself, she refused to leave Mr. Straus’s side. “All these years we have traveled together, and shall we part now? No, our fate is one,” she explained. Two sailors tried to force her in, and she wrangled herself free, looking at her husband. “Where you go, I go,” she said. The couple was last seen arm in arm on the deck, the finale of their forty years together.

Today, a different sentiment dominates. It’s closer to, “Where you go, I might consider visiting.” The individual comes first.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why millennials are lonely. In short, it’s because loneliness is contagious (literally), and the internet exacerbates it. Our “infectious isolation,” I concluded, is mounting.

This is problematic for lots of reasons: In animals, social isolation shortens lifespan, promotes obesity and diabetes, hinders psychosexual development, and increases cortisol levels. In humans, social isolation has, according to Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, “an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” Socially isolated people are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease. They’re also more stressed, less creative, have lower self-esteem, and feel less in control of their lives than non-lonely people.

So how do we stop being lonely?

I think the answer starts with priorities. Social connection has become less important to us. One large cross-sectional study found that subjective loneliness actually declined slightly between 1978 and 2009 in adolescents, while objective social isolation increased. High school students in 2009, the study’s authors write, “reported fewer friends with whom to interact, but less desire for more friends.” Meanwhile, empathy decreased, and insecure attachments increased.

This is consistent with my own experience. Since graduating college, I’ve put friendships on the back burner. I even emailed someone wanting to grab coffee a couple months ago that “I’m just incapable of making friends right now. There’s a little too much going on with work.” The fact that today many people’s best friends are from college may attest to the amount of effort we put into friendships after college.

When I was suffering from a bout of loneliness last year, my boyfriend told me to just go out and meet people. Well, I’m not that lonely, I thought. But recovering from our society-wide isolation will require effort.

Just meeting people, however, isn’t enough. We also need to sacrifice for them. In response to my last article, several readers pointed out that trust is missing from many modern friendships. I think trust is the feeling that someone has your back no matter what. And, today, the truth is very few people do.

In a 2012 op-ed for the New York Times, Sherry Turkle wrote that we’re “increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Millennials may be lonely not just from insufficient social interaction, but also due to insufficient social obligation.

Generational researcher Jean Twenge has found that millennials are significantly more likely than adolescents in the 1970s to describe themselves using traits like “independent” and “assertive.” The resulting gains from this attitude are real, and shouldn’t be discounted — particularly for women. But it’s also, in a way, too bad.

My friends and I have talked about how you never know whether to stay in a city, because your friends could leave soon for some better job somewhere else. If you stayed, hoping they’d stick around, you’re SOL. (Even the prospect that you’d consider them before your career is embarrassing.) Our solution to get everyone to stay put, we joke, is to build a commune. But we know that will never happen. And we know, if we get a better opportunity elsewhere, we’ll leave.

Our commune dream is for something quasi-contractual to keep us together. This is also why, though millennials are marrying later, many of us quietly crave a ring. But marriage, indeed, is a perfect example of our stubborn determination to be a, or at least give, the bird: we’re marrying later — by an average of six years since 1960 — to extend our geographic and professional autonomy.

Amazingly, research has found that attachment to even just a place reduces loneliness. If everyone decided to remain in the same city or town for a lifetime, as they did for centuries before now, we’d receive the two best remedies for loneliness: a home and a community.

I know that’s unrealistic. But before genuine connection sinks altogether, it’s worth thinking about what such a loss would actually mean. Seventeenth-century English poet John Donne wrote that, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We like to believe we’re floating free. But we need each other, and acting otherwise results more in isolation than true independence.

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.
Apr 25, 2017    Caroline Beaton      The Gen-Y Guide


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Is Living Alone the Unlikely Answer to Loneliness?

New research shows that people who live alone are less lonely.

The authors of the book Loneliness describe their concern that Western societies do not take the inherent gregariousness of humans seriously enough. They note that “the latest figures show that ever-greater numbers of people are accepting a life in which they are physically, and perhaps emotionally, isolated from one another.” Among the evidence they cite in support of that fear is the growing number of people who live alone.

It seems intuitive that people who live alone would be lonelier than people who live with others. Most single people do not live alone, yet single people are believed to be lonelier than married people. I’ve found evidence of this in my own research, and researchers in other countries have as well.

A new study of loneliness, based on a large sample of German adults, examined the links among loneliness, living alone, and living single. The research was based on data collected in 2013 from more than 16,000 Germans ranging in age from 18 to 103, who represented more than 10,000 households.

The authors found that when they compared people who lived alone to people who lived with others—focusing on that key aspect of their living arrangement and not letting other factors muddy the picture—the people who lived alone were less lonely.

They also tried to make the case that single people are lonelier, and seemed to imply that if they were to get married, their loneliness would subside. But they ended up showing that they really don’t understand basic methodologies, and that they don’t appreciate, psychologically, how the experience of living single after you get divorced or become widowed could profoundly differ from the experience of living single all your life.

Loneliness and Living Alone: The Link Is Not What You Think

When the authors simply compared the people who lived alone with those who lived with others, the people who lived alone reported more loneliness. But people who live alone differ from the people who live with others in all sorts of ways, so we don’t know, without looking more closely, if living alone really is linked with greater loneliness.

Fortunately, the authors took this step. They found that one way people who live alone differ from others is in their income. So they controlled for income statistically, which means that they essentially compared people at the same level of income to see how loneliness differed between those living alone and those living with others.

Here’s what they found: When people who live alone have the same income as people living with others, the people who live alone are less lonely.

The authors conclude that “living alone may even have beneficial effects on the quality of one’s social relationships” and add, as researchers often do, that more research is needed. Many studies already show the ways in which single people are more connected to other people than married people are, and demonstrate that it is the people who marry, rather than those who stay single, who become more insular.

The research does not show that living alone is a cure for loneliness. Among the people who live alone are those (we don’t know exactly how many) who chose to live that way. If people who prefer living with other people were urged to live alone, we don’t know what would happen. Maybe they would make an effort to form and maintain the kinds of social ties that keep loneliness at bay. Or maybe they would just end up lonely.

The Link Between Loneliness and Single Life

The authors used their data to compare three groups:

  • People who are single and not living with a partner;
  • People who have a romantic partner but are not living together; and
  • People who are living with a romantic partner (and are often married).

They seem to think they know what they are going to find, because in their view, previous research shows that, “Being married is robustly associated with lower levels of loneliness.” They report that in their own research, “average loneliness levels were highest among singles and lowest among those living with their partners.”

The implication seems to be that if only those single people would get married, their loneliness would dissipate. The authors never quite say that married people are less lonely because they are married, but that seems to be the implication.

The problem is, neither their data, nor the data from the previous research they cite, could ever establish that getting married causes people to be less lonely. In fact, the design of the studies and the comparisons they use are a set-up, biased to make married people look less lonely than they really are. The studies compare only people who are currently married (or living with a romantic partner) to those who are single. They set aside all of the people who got married, felt desperately lonely in their marriage, and then got divorced. No, wait—the authors of this paper did not set them aside. If the people who got divorced are still single, the authors included them in the single group, along with the lifelong single people.

And what about people who are widowed, and who may indeed feel deeply lonely without their spouse? They are also included in the group of lifelong single people.

Here’s what their data really show: If you include all of the people who are widowed (and may well be quite lonely) in the group of single people, as well as all of the people who chose to marry but then divorced (and may also be feeling lonely on their own after having been married), then the people who are left in the married group are less lonely than the people who were included in the single group. But does that mean that if all the single people got married, they would become less lonely? No, the research does not show that at all.

In fact, even by using the technique that gives married people a great big unfair advantage, the results were a lot less definitive than the authors expected. When they looked separately at three age groups, they found that romantic relationship status didn’t matter among the adults younger than 30. People who were living with a romantic partner (and often married), people who had a partner but were not living with that partner, and people who were single (with no romantic partner) all experienced about the same levels of loneliness. Among those older than 65, the singles were a bit lonelier, but the differences were small. Only among the middle-aged group (ages 30-65) were the people living with romantic partners noticeably less lonely than the single people.

The article could leave readers with the impression that those people were less lonely because they were married (or cohabiting). An alternative possibility is that the married group looks less lonely because so many of the people who were lonely in their marriages got divorced (and then the authors put them in with the lifelong single people). The article doesn’t discuss the fact that the single group also includes people who are widowed, and are probably lonely because they miss their spouse. The implication seems to be that being single means you’re lonely, and if you’re married, you’re not lonely.

I want you to think smarter than that.

When the authors state in their article abstract that the “late-life increase in loneliness could be explained by…higher proportion of singles in this age group,” the implication seems to be that single means lonely. That might lead you to think, “Oh those poor old people, they are lonely because they are single.” But maybe they are lonely because so many of them are widowed. Maybe they spent so many years of their lives married that they don’t know how to lead a full, rich, socially connected life as a single person. And maybe lifelong single people do know how to do that.

Actually, there’s no need to qualify that last statement with a “maybe.” We already know, from lots of research, that lifelong single people have more friends than married people, and do more to maintain their ties with friends, siblings, parents, and neighbors. It is when people get married that they turn inward and pay less attention to the other people in their lives.

Clinging to Ideology, Not Facts

  • The arguments in the article seem to be rooted in an ideology of marriage, which maintains that just about everyone wants to marry and that people who get married are better off physically, psychologically, and interpersonally than they were when they were single. I believe this because of the way the authors talk about single people and partnered people. For example:
  • When discussing loneliness in older people, they say that “the absence of a significant attachment figure (spouse, partner)” is important. Do you see what’s wrong with that? This suggests that only a spouse or romantic partner counts as a significant attachment figure. No matter how close you may be to a lifelong friend, a sibling, or anyone else; and no matter if your relationship with another person meets all the criteria for an attachment relationship, your attachment figure is not considered a significant one if that person is not a spouse or romantic partner.
  • The authors say that “the formation of an intimate relationship and partnership in young adults is a developmental accomplishment.” It is, if that’s what you want.  But not everyone wants that. There are young adults (and adults of every age) who are uninterested in that goal. In this article, marriage is portrayed as an accomplishment. That’s an ideological assumption, but it is stated more like a fact — and this is in a scientific publication.

When the authors find, to their surprise, that romantic relationship status has nothing to do with loneliness among adults younger than the age of 30, they try to explain it this way: “[Y]ounger people can compensate for the absence of a romantic partner through a larger social network in both private and professional life.” The key word is “compensate.” It reveals the assumption that romantic relationships matter more than any other relationships, to all people, and therefore if adults do not have such a relationship, they need to compensate for that somehow.

The compensation assumption is especially remarkable in light of the authors’ own findings. Relationship status did not matter as much as they thought it would. Results were not consistent across the three age groups, and they did not mean what the authors said they did. But another factor matters, in predictable ways, and in consistent ways across the three age groups: having friends.

What’s more, there was no undermining the importance of friendship, no matter how the authors analyzed the data. People with more friends were less lonely. The results were that simple. But nowhere do we learn anything about how people need to compensate for not having friends.

Bella DePaulo Ph.D.   Living Single   Sep 26, 2016