There is a strong correlation between loneliness and the significantly increased risk of early mortality, according to a study at Brigham Young University. Head author, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, notes that “substantial evidence now indicates that individuals lacking social connections (both objective and subjective social isolation) are at risk for premature mortality.”
Holt-Lunstad considers the risks is linked to loneliness and are already greater than such established dangers as obesity:
Several decades ago scientists examining widespread dietary and behavior changes increased warnings about obesity and related health problems. The present obesity epidemic had been anticipated. Obesity now gets constant coverage in the media and in public health policy. The current status of research on the risks of loneliness and social isolation has similarities with the research on obesity conducted 3 decades ago… Current evidence points out that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity.
Moreover, she warns that “researchers have predicted that loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless action is taken.”
Why Are We So Isolated From Each Other?
From the long view, it is believed that Western civilization as a whole has promoted a progressive disintegration of our physical and social relationships. With an emphasis on achieving personal goals, the traditional institutions of family and community and their ability to provide their members with a sense of belonging and shared purpose have become increasingly disintegrated.
The family entity has gone from large generations-linked mutual support systems to small and immediate units, sometimes including single parents who find it difficult to create a stable home environment for their children. In addition to this, there are more and more people are not even building families, and the number of people living alone has increased significantly in our society.This includes the elderly, who find it difficult to find a ‘fit’ living within their children’s families than ever before.
The Rise of Social Media
It is believed that the increase in eminence of social media has partially been fuelled by the sense of distancing we have long felt within our modern society. It can’t be said that the social media is the leading cause of our loneliness, as some consider, but rather a symptom of this much longer-standing social problem. We have developed a habit of connecting via chats and web pages as it easily accessible. But just as any quick fix, it cannot fulfill our deeper needs, either individually or as a society.
If we notice that our society has been slowly disintegrating over hundreds of years, then it becomes present upon us as a society (if we are still able to identify ourselves with our ‘society’) to take actions to cure this situation. The potential actions, though, considering how things appear to be trending, depends on a great conjecture.
On Being Alone
One method is to first admit that Western society’s emphasis on the individual is not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, the development of personal integrity, creativity, and autonomy plays crucial role in the evolution of human consciousness. We should learn how to be alone with ourselves, which is a part of that process. In his work entitled Pensees, French philosopher Blaise Pascal observed that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
According to the Eastern gurus and mystics, it is possible for one to be perfectly happy in isolation. This can be largely assisted by practicing meditation and other similar methods that provide us a direct perception of our energetic connectedness with other people, and with all things as well. In this higher state, the damaging emotional influence of loneliness and social isolation are not experienced.
Our Next Step
However, the life of the yogi remains for the few. The rest of us, seemingly, exist in this planet to interact, share, and love. And we aren’t incarnated into this dense physical world to improve ourselves at virtual relationships. At this stage, we are likely to have gotten a bit too accustomed to social isolation for our own good.
Holt-Lunstad notes that “although living alone can offer conveniences and advantages for an individual, this meta-analysis indicates that physical health is not among them.” She also cites another study that “has demonstrated higher survival rates for those who are more socially connected.” And then there is the seminal 75-Year Harvard University study, where “it was universally clear that without loving and supportive relationships, men in the study were not happy.” The message is becoming clear: we need to come together.
We are perhaps at a great turning point in our development than most of us realize. It appears that we have come to the extreme edge of the searching of individualism, and we are preparing to move into greater balance with a collective identity. Thus, we aren’t returning to the traditional ways, but rather to a synthesis of our growth as individuals with the shared experience we are now hungering for. This synthesis indicates the next stage of our evolution.