When I was in a summer camp many years ago, a guy called Michelle entered my room at midnight, sat down on the border of my bed and started crying. His sobs woke me up. I asked, half-asleep, him politely what the problem was. After some seconds in complete silence, he could just articulate these words: "I...feel...empty.". I did not understand the meaning behind those words and did not know how to help him. My worries toward him were increasing and in the end, I decided to call an older camp member who took Michelle out of my room. Once he closed my door, I did not know what happened afterwards. Years later, with a better understanding of human psychology and more maturity, I could finally comprehend his words...he felt lonely. And that was paradoxical because Michelle was one of the most extroverted people I have ever met in my life. He was always surrounded by people, loved making jokes and laughing. You would think many things about him but never would you come up with loneliness. Being alone and lonely sound similar but are totally two different worlds. The first is a physical state, while the second is a mental one. You can be alone and not feel lonely! Besides, loneliness is involuntary and involves depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and the feeling of being unloved, among many others. Being alone can also be involuntary, but the reality is that many people seek to be alone because we live in a stressful and cramped world. Being alone voluntary is called solitude and it is a great way to obtain peace and to work on your personal projects. Solitude, in my opinion, is key to living a fulfilling life because it provides you with in-depth knowledge and self-awareness. It makes you an interesting person, with enough emotional independence to enjoy your own company and therefore, less probable to be prejudiced by your social circumstances because there are moments of our lives in which we are unavoidably alone. On the other hand, loneliness is painful and involuntary, it will chase you and put you down in every task you do. Loneliness is a synonym of emotional vulnerability and pessimism. When things are running smoothly, you do not enjoy it. Furthermore, if you fail, you punish yourself even harder. Lonely people want to think about, or do things, that can reminder themselves even more that they are lonely; wallowing in their own suffering.
...loneliness can be as deadly as smoking, if not more.
Nowadays, the negative effects of smoking such as cancer or heart diseases are well known even by smokers. Nonetheless, in the past, the situation was completely different, smoking inside hospitals and schools was something normal. Cigarettes were considered harmless, and some doctors even recommended them to their patients. Only after several investigations, we realized the dangers of smoking, start restricting it and helped smokers to get rid of that bad habit. Likewise, loneliness was underrated until yesterday because lonely people were usually associated with serious mental diseases or social incompetency. However, currently, we know that loneliness can assault the life of any one of us here present. In fact, roughly 40% of university students would undergo this mental state. I am going to explain why in more depth later. Therefore, loneliness can be as deadly as smoking, if not more. We tend to underestimate the importance of mental health and think that our mind is separated from our bodies.
Loneliness is not something to make jokes about, it can alter the brain structures and hormonal system, deriving in dire diseases such as depression or Alzheimer's. Surprisingly, people who suffer loneliness have got 50% more chance of dying prematurely! Moreover, lonely people tend to hide their pain and do not ask for external help because they are embarrassed to admit they feel lonely, which aggravates, even more, their already decadent situation. Smoking is a much easier problem to deal with because there are more resources available such as nicotine patches or social groups to stop smoking, compared to help available to tackle loneliness A smoker can be held accountable, because they can see clearly whether he is abandoning his smoking habit or not. But a lonely person cannot as loneliness is abstract, non-measurable. In addition, a smoker can consume 15 cigarettes per day, destroying his health but he could still be happy with his life; a lonely person could never be happy.
Studies show that more and more people are feeling lonely than in the past. How can this be possible when we have got social media and live in the most connected time in human history? Because hyperconnectivity just increases the number of connections, but not the quality of them. Most of our friends in social media have got little or non-existent influence in our daily life. They are probably far-away, doing their own stuff. When we embark on superfluous conversations with these people, the fulfilment we get from these talks are ephemeral, they just satisfy our necessity of social validation demonstrated by the rapid exchange of text messages and emotionally hollow emoticons. Immediately after leaving our smartphone, a feeling of emptiness invades us because we have spent hours talking with a stranger who does not care about us, about meaningless topics. This effect is not necessary sensed consciously but on a subconsciously level. It is like when you smoke, you do not feel the damage on your body, but the damage is clearly there. We do not need thousands of followers on social media to feel fulfilled socially speaking, the followers' number just feed our ego and desire for social validation. These emotions are weak because you are making your happiness rely on external circumstances. Moreover, they are treacherous because they will abandon you in the harsh moments, leaving you feeling miserable or hopeless. Self-esteem and perseverance are hard to gain but they never abandon you. Instead, they make you grow up in the adversity. Instead, humans only require 4-5 meaningful connections to be happy because they provide sustainable joy to our lives, as well as a safety zone to feel supported when needed. In the past, establishing long-term and deep connections was much easier as people do not usually move away from their place of birth and letters were at their peak usage. These allowed people to establish close bonds with people they have known since their childhood. Furthermore, in those times, people did not have smartphones, YouTube, or TikTok to entertain themselves in hours of meaningless information. Our great-great-great-great-grandparents had most of their fun on the street with people they had known for years.
Meaningful connections are the main cure of loneliness, but we cannot rely on them as they partly depend on other people, on external circumstances outside of our control. Instead, we should concentrate on just one word: proactivity. Taking control of your life and starting to engage in activities you are interested in have two main benefits. Firstly, doing something you relish in will fulfil your life with valuable “things” of life FOR YOU not anyone else. Hence, the valuable ‘things’ of life are variable with each person. For someone, it could be their job because he does not like his family, but another person might be the total opposite. What makes as happy depends on our context and personality, which are unique in each human being. Secondly, in many of these activities, you will probably find like-minded people, whom you can establish interesting conversations with. In most cases, you will not find your best friend or the partner of your dreams. You do not want that, but just talking about topics of common interest allows you easily to build a rapport with the other person and get the sense that there are other people like you. This will satisfy your needs as a social animal, even though loneliness would not disappear immediately, but it is much better than crying for your misery or staring at other Facebook profiles to see how their lives are apparently better than yours. Another way to fight loneliness is philosophy, having deep thoughts about human relationships and reality can be used to weigh about your current situation and the value of the connections you have. The philosophical approach to loneliness is manifold but I am going to focus on stoicism, which basically says that you should not care about things out of your control. And this is utterly true. If you are a nice person and you have no friends, why should you feel sad that the people surrounding you ignore you? Life is very short; nothing is more important than your own happiness because time is merciless and will depreciate the value of the meaningless stuff quickly. When you are old, on the brink of death, how important would that random girl at university who literally ignores you be? Reflect on it.
Despite living in a globalized world where it is so easy to communicate with each other, people are feeling lonelier because the quality of connections are not improving rather they are deteriorating. An awesome life is constructed by yourself, not by others, by being proactive. Before concluding this article, I wish to give you just one more piece of advice. When you are feeling down, remember that nothing can stop you to keep trying to live a happier life…except death. Everyone will die and when that occurs, our companies will just be the maggots that are devouring us until our flesh is totally consumed. Then, all of us indiscriminately would be eternally alone…but never lonely again!