As I sat down with my second cup of coffee to follow my morning ritual, I scanned my emails when an article caught my attention: Study Reveals Loneliness at Epidemic Levels in America. If you’re feeling lonely, realize you’re not alone. The results of the study conducted by health insurer Cigna stated that nearly half of Americans surveyed sometimes or always feel left out, with only 53% saying they have meaningful in-person social interactions.1
Loneliness has plagued all of us through time, sometimes leaving us feeling lost for a few hours or a few days. In other seasons, we may discover we awaken each morning and end each day with a chronic hurt and ache that lay within the feeling of aloneness. What surprised me most in this current survey was the results for each generation. A summary from NPR cited these statistics: Members of Generation Z, born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, had an overall loneliness score of 48.3. Millennials, just a little bit older, scored 45.3. By comparison, Baby Boomers scored 42.4. The Greatest Generation, people ages 72 and above, had a score of 38.6 on the loneliness scale.
I imagine you, like myself, would have assumed the exact opposite. We perceive the older generation as isolated and the younger as busy, active, and engaged. While that may be true in simple life activities, it is not true in relationships.
Loneliness may be plaguing someone you know, you work with, someone you briefly encounter in your day, or perhaps this is even you. But this survey, along with others, shows us there is indeed an epidemic. Unlike a disease or virus that we have no control over, this is one that we can and should attack. There are some whose loneliness is so severe that more actions are needed than I can suggest here. And I do encourage those suffering to seek help. But I believe if those of us who don’t struggle with loneliness took a little time and made a bit of an effort, we could reduce this loneliness epidemic. And if you’re one who does struggle, put aside those insecurities and feelings of inadequacy to take a few steps toward building those relationships that hold so much value.
Let me give you a few ideas of things that can make a real difference when you’re feeling lonely:
Be the initiator.
Be the first to reach out, create the opportunity, or offer the invitation. It could be a neighbor, classmate, friend of a friend, or even the server at the restaurant you frequent. If the percentages are true, nearly 50% of the people you encounter would welcome the exchange.
This will take courage for the introvert or extrovert, for the lonely, and for those whose relationship plate is full. But look around. If half of everyone in the room is lonely, the need is great. And if you are one of those, what do you have to lose?
Give more than a handshake.
If you’re at an event, club meeting, or church service, have you considered saying more than “Good morning?” Even at the grocery store with the cashier scanning your purchases. Ask their name and where they are from, and find something to compliment. Notice the person next to you, in front of you. Do they have a unique tattoo or piece of jewelry? Their gorgeous skin or lovely hair color. Let them know that you see them.
It may feel incredibly awkward the first few times you do this but trust me on this, they will smile, they will engage they will share something you wouldn’t know if you hadn’t asked. If you just give something a little extra that makes them know they matter they will believe they do as well.
Loneliness may be plaguing someone you know, you work with, someone you briefly encounter in your day, or perhaps this is even you.
Offer your most precious gift, time.
There are quick interactions that make a big difference. In a world that ignores those who live near us, maybe we take a plate of cookies (even if they are store-bought) over to the new neighbor as they close the moving van. You notice a co-worker struggling, maybe with their job, or it seems life is taking a toll. Stop and give them a few extra minutes when you see they need it. Take those extra minutes to chat when walking your dog, even if you’re being tangled in the leash.
Or purposefully dedicate more time. Offer to meet up for coffee or a meal. Do they need to be around a group of people? Invite them to an event, join you for a movie, or to your church. Even offer to pick them up. In a world that focuses on self, sharing your time shows you truly care. And if you’re the one who is lonely, time spent together is the best way to build new relationships.
Look others in the eye.
There is nothing that makes someone feel more alone than when they think everything else in your life is more important than they are. Don’t glance at the Apple watch, cell phone, or even over their shoulder at what is happening behind them. Look them in the eye.
We all need to know we are the focus of another’s attention again, that they see us, eager for our response, anticipation of a real reaction and conversation. Looking into another’s eyes creates a connection as well as an understanding of their feelings.
Real questions. The most significant solution to loneliness is finding someone who cares about our lives. Not just the surface high spot but the real honest, joyful, challenging parts of our lives.
We are truly alike, facing similar battles, with the same emotions and needs—to love and be loved. Or at least feel we are noticed and liked. Real questions allowing time for real answers will remind us of that. So ask and listen—the best way deep relationships are created.
So the next time you enter a room of 100, remember that nearly half are battling loneliness. If you’re one who is in that battle, I want you to know you are not alone in your feelings or your hurt. People in every event, every workplace, every family feel just as you do. Reach out as well; you may discover a relationship you didn’t know was there.
One of the very early Beatles songs, entitled Eleanor Rigby, is profound in its lyrics and amazingly sad in its observation. Its chorus asked a few questions that I think deserve an answer:
All the lonely people
Where do they all come from
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong
Where do they come from? Our hurried, disinterested society. Where do they belong? They belong with us, with you, and with me. As a part of our community, our neighborhood, our church, our family, our lives. May we seek those who feel lonely to let them know they are not alone? And may we be courageous enough to reach out when that is us.
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