‘I am so lonely, I crave interaction, I crave it’ said Sophie, Kristen Stewart’s character, in the long monologue from the movie ‘Anesthesia’ which ‘ponders on the meaninglessness of life’ as the New York Times review it.
Mother Teresa once said that Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.
I guess this is a poor world, in more ways than we considered it to be. Loneliness has been termed by some scientists as a ‘modern epidemic.’ We thrive in groups but the modern society is making us feel more alone, more isolated. There are various studies that have been and are being conducted that have found loneliness as one of the greatest life threats apart from the already existing issues like obesity and substance abuse. Now that we have understood that loneliness exists and in a bigger and glaring manner, the next thing that we should attempt to understand is, why does it persist!
Loneliness is widely assumed as some sort of isolation, which is true but only to some extent. The greatest myth that has lingered around loneliness is only those people feel it who are alone. But loneliness can affect someone who is in the crowd as opposed to someone who is probably ‘alone’ in his home watching the television.
As the Social Neuroscientist Prof. John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago puts it, ‘Loneliness isn’t about whether we live alone, it’s about feeling alone.’
The other myth that exists is that loneliness hits only elderly people. The youth know it isn’t true. This epidemic gets all ages and classes. It does not discriminate, at least not anymore.
I think, therefore, there is a need to somewhat rephrase the definition.
Loneliness isn’t about being alone, it’s about not feeling connected. And that is the larger issue we all as human beings are grappling with in this increasingly modern and apparently ‘connected’ society. Humans are social beings and we need to feel like we ‘belong.’ The feeling of belongingness is important for us to thrive and this is what we also strive for. To make connections. This is why social media came into being, right? To establish connections. But it is no coincidence that the conversation around loneliness has started at the same time the internet has exploded. The sense that we ‘belong’ is somewhere getting lost and we need to know why.
Texting and social media have definitely made our lives easier in ways that are both good and bad. While it is a time-saving, quick form of communication, it has prevented us from forming concrete and substantive relationships in person. Social Media gives us a false illusion of ‘not being alone’, filling our lives with loneliness even more.
Prof. Cacioppo. says, “If used as a tool to enrich and increase the frequency of face-to-face interactions, social media tends to be associated with lower levels of loneliness. But if you look at it as a replacement for the face-to-face, it can flood you with loneliness,”
Olivia Laing says very aptly in her book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, “Loneliness doesn’t necessarily require physical solitude, but rather an absence or paucity of connection, closeness, kinship: an inability to find as much intimacy as is desired.”
There is a sudden urge for privacy and also low tolerance. People are getting isolated; people prefer to be isolated. Loneliness has never been taken as a serious problem or even talked about as a problem. No Government data is available on this issue.
India is one of the top depressed countries in the world and loneliness is one of the major reasons. Research reveals that people dealing with loneliness tend to adapt hostile and harmful behaviours. Loneliness can actually disarm men’s ability to function to properly. It can lead to many health issues and also a premature death.
Modern life cannot be made a villain, but it definitely has some part in making us feel less connected, less intimate. The studies demonstrate that forging meaningful relationships can help us with loneliness in a variety of ways, and also help us in managing stress, and giving meaning to people’s lives. Loneliness can have dangerous impacts than we would like to know. It is like a beast that has come out of the cage. It is attacking everyone and it is time we admit and acknowledge it. If you are lonely, or if you know people who feel lonely, don’t brush it aside as a mere emotion. It entails a lot.
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