Can a human be happy alone?

You Can Be Happy and Lonely At the Same TimeBrad Stulberg3 years agoPhoto by bruce mars on Pexels.comThanks to the proliferation of digital technologies, never has it been so easy

Can a human be happy alone?

You Can Be Happy and Lonely At the Same TimeBrad Stulberg3 years ago

Photo by bruce mars on

Thanks to the proliferation of digital technologies, never has it been so easy and inexpensive to reach  pretty much anywhere and at any time  family, friends, and colleagues. I regularly Facebook-message with a Sherpa friend who lives in Nepal; use Twitter to get real-time updates from an athlete I coach who lives in Australia; participate in an ongoing group email with friends whom I love and admire; and text my mom bitmoji while walking to my favorite coffee shop.The people of the world, and perhaps more important, the people ofmyworld, are literally all at my fingertips.Yet at the same, Ive been feeling a bit lonely.

Its not that Im sad, and certainly not clinically depressed. Overall, Id actually say Im pretty happy.Its just that Im increasingly noticing  somewherebetween my chest and my gut this sensation of something being not quite right, of something missing.Its a feeling of being more, yet less,connected than ever.And its a feeling that appears to be becoming increasingly common.

John T. Cacioppo, a psychologist who studies loneliness and directs the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, recentlytoldTheWall Street Journalthat the rate of loneliness in America has doubled in the past few decades, up from 11 percent in the 1980s to around 40 percent in 2010.Other research, conducted by the AARP and Harris Polling, puts this number at between30 and 35 percentfor regular loneliness and as high as 72 percent foroccasional loneliness.

This is worrisome for a number of reasons, perhaps none greater than all of the health problems with which loneliness is associated. These include, in no particular order: elevated levels of the stress hormonecortisol;poorsleepquality; a 29 percentincreasein risk for heart disease; a 32 percentincreasein risk for stroke; acceleratedcognitive decline; heightened systemicinflammation; and reducedimmune function.

Put all of this together, as researchers from Brigham Young University did for a comprehensivestudythat followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years,and youll learn thatthe mortality risks associated with loneliness exceed those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and are comparable to those associated with smoking.Put differently, socially isolated people aretwice as likelyto die early versus those who have thriving social interactions.(These effects are particularlyacutein elderly individuals, who tend to be the most physically isolated yet often most need in-person support for the activities of daily living.)

In addition to wreaking havoc on individuals, social isolation also contributes to the degradation of strong community ties. In researching his bookTribe, Sebastian Junger found that lack of social support is twice as reliable at predicting PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder] as the severity of the trauma [one experiences] itself.Junger makes a compelling case thatmany soldiers are actuallymoresatisfiedat war than at home because when they are at war they are part of a tight-knit community.Humans dont mind hardship, in fact, they thrive on it, he writes. What they mind is not feeling necessary. [And]modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.

The rate of loneliness has doubled in the past few decades.

As for how we arrived at such a state, Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT and a licensed clinical psychologist, places the lions share of the blame on the very technologies that are supposed to connect us.Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies  suggest[ing] substitutions that put the real on the run,she writes in her bookAlone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other.Digital devices, she goes on, offer theillusion[italics mine] of companionship without the demands of friendship.In other words,althoughour shiny screens promote connections that can be enjoyable, stimulating, and beneficial, they do not substitute for the more substantial work of being physically present with another person;for it is likelybecauseof this substantial work that physical connections are more rewarding.

Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz come to a slightly different, yet complementary, conclusion. In their book,The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century,they explain thatanincreased focused on productivity  and the the cult of busyness it has spawned  crowds out time for cultivating and sustaining meaningful relationships.

Its just that Im increasingly noticing  somewhere between my chest and my gut  this sensation of something being not quite right, of something missing.Its a feeling of being more, yet less, connected than ever.

Reflecting on my own life, it becomes clear that Ive fallen prey to both of these trends. Over the past year, Ive been trying to make it (whatever that means) as a writer. Ive pumped out around 50 magazine articles, started a newsletter, and coauthored abook all solitary endeavors (my coauthor lives across the country, and on the rare occasions we were together I felt wonderful). WhileIve grown my virtual network by something like 1000 percent, Ive spent less time in-person with other human beings. Instead of meeting up with running buddies at a centrally located trailhead, for instance, Ive run solo out my front door to save commute time. Ive even frequently opted not to leave my apartment to work out of a coffee shop because I was nervous to interrupt my groove (this sounds so pathetic, but its true).

In other words,I too often chose productivity over people.This isntalwaysa bad thing; sometimes youve just got to put your head down and get the work done.Not to mention,Im a pretty big introvert,so Id often rather be in my own mind than interacting with other people.Its just that my personal balance shifted to an extreme without my even noticing it.

Surely a large part of, if not the entire, reason I didnt notice is because of all mydigitally-driven friendships, a few of which I mentioned in the opening. But Im continuing to realize what Turkle writes:Digital friends will never live up to the real thing; if our balance shifts too far to the digital, were liable to end up feelingalonetogether.

Humans dont mind hardship, in fact, they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary. Andmodern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.

The good news is that theres a straightforward fix for both myself and anyone else who may be feeling the same way.Weve just got to make a point of it to betogethertogether, at least more often.This starts with reminding ourselves that as great as technology and online social networks are,these things augment, but do not replace, actual in-the-flesh social connection.As for the latter, lets relinquish just a bit of our obsession with productivity in favor of making coffee dates with friends (and holding them to it), hosting Saturday-night dinners, scheduling lake walks, and starting or joining book clubs.(Guys, this means us, too. Because men typicallydontdo these things we tend to beeven lonelier.)In thewordsof author Caroline Webb,even something as simple asturning transactions into interactionswhen dealing with strangers(as in, lift your head up from your phone in the checkout line)can go a long way.And for those of us with significant others, how about implementing periods of phones/iPads/computers off and out of the room in the evenings. While it is true that forging intimate bonds takes more time and energy than sending an email or text, the benefits of doing so  both for us as individuals as well as for the communities we live in  seem worth it.

This post first appeared in Brads column at New York magazine.

If you enjoyed this post, you'll love our new book Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and The Surprising Science of Real Toughness!

For a limited time, It's over 30% Off! Get your copy today!


Sign up for The Growth Equation newsletter and receive weekly insights on the art and science of performance and well-being.

Submitting...Thank you! Please check your email inbox to confirm.{{message}}Leave this field empty if you're human:

Share this:Categories: Community, Mental HealthLeave a Comment

Video liên quan