I recently read an article titled, Why Millennials Are Lonely. In it, author Caroline Beaton cites a number of potential reasons for our increasing sense of isolation and one cause, no surprise, is that social media has taken the place of what Beaton refers to as “offline” socialization. In other words, many people are spending time communicating through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and texts, rather than sharing face time with friends. In the short-term, electronic communications can make us feel more connected to our peers; however, because the interactions are fleeting and lack depth, with time they can leave us empty.
That is especially sad, because loneliness is shown to increase our risk of heart disease and early death.
Conversely, a longitudinal study on health and happiness, conducted by researches at Harvard University, found that good health and longevity are strongly linked to building and maintaining positive relationships. People who have a close-knit group of friends and family members, will live longer and healthier lives. If you’d like to learn more about this 80 year project, check out Director Robert Waldingers Ted Talk here.
As the mother of a child who will grow up in a world even more consumed with electronics and Artificial Intelligence, I want to ensure that I am teaching her to value and sustain social connections. At seven years old, she already shows a deep interest in texting and Facebook. She loves the real-time conversations she can have with relatives across the world, even if they are limited to a few lines of text and some well placed emojis. And who doesn’t? Let’s face it, social media is convenient and instantaneous. However, she also loves hosting sleepovers and special events for her close friends. She finds joy in doing kind things for people, like handwriting thank you notes and gifting favorite books to younger children. Those are the interests I want to nurture.
How can we role model friendship for the young people in our lives, and in the process alleviate loneliness we may feel? Here are some quick and easy ways to connect with loved ones and build a deeper sense of community.
1.) Take time away from social media
When we step away from our phones, ipads, and computers, we become aware of something really interesting. Life is happening all around us! And when we take time to connect, life flows through us. If we just look up for a few moments, we might find something beautiful staring us in the face.
2.) Invite a friend on a walk.
Every evening after my little one has been tucked in for the night and my husband is relaxing with a good book, I take a walk through my neighborhood. Seeing other people out and about, walking their dogs, or chatting with friends on the front porch makes me feel connected to the place where I live. I will often invite one of my closest pals to go along with me. This is an easy way for us to get exercise and fresh air, but more importantly, it is a way to connect without any distractions. We talk about work, family, plans for the future. Nothing is off-limits. Those walks are therapeutic and they are something I look forward to them during my work day. Here’s another post we wrote about this topic.
3.) Host a “game night”
I grew up in the 90s when board games were still a big deal. From Trivial Persuit, to Pictionary, to Scattergories, you could usually find my family “gaming” around the dinner table on Friday nights. There is something lighthearted and comforting about the shenanigans that ensue as you play one of these classic games. Invite a small group of people over to share a bottle of wine and hunker down on the living room floor for some friendly competition. It is a great way to bond.
4.) Perform a selfless act for someone in need
Whether you bake cookies for the young family down the street, cuddle kittens at the local Human Society, or volunteer at Bingo night for the nursing home in your community, give selflessly to help others. As we take the focus off of ourselves and think of our neighbors, we can eliminate some feelings of isolation. Better yet, build community service, volunteerism, and regular acts of kindness into your life and model it for the children you know.
5.) Throw a cocktail party
Of all the parties you can put together, this one is the easiest. All you need are two cocktail choices that you mix ahead of time, and maybe a bottle of red and white wine. Put out a couple of simple snacks and ask everyone to bring a favorite wine or beer to share. Create a fun play list, and then mingle for a few hours. Cocktail parties are a great way to bring new people together. You can invite work colleagues, college friends, and some acquaintances that you’ve wanted to get to know better. It is a great way to build your social network.
6.) Pick up the phone
There is something melodic about the voice of a loved one. When I’m feeling lonely, there is always one person who can make me feel better. It’s been that way since I was a kid. After a hard day, if I can hear my brother’s voice, all is well with the world. We text an awful lot, but there are days when listening to his jokes and hearing is laughter is the only thing that will do. Next time you reach for your phone to text a friend, give them a ring instead.
Finally, this post was written to people who may have let personal connections slip away, or who may be looking for ways to prioritize their friendships. If you are feeling more than lonely…if you are depressed or despondent, it isn’t because you haven’t tried hard enough and we encourage you to seek help. Depression can’t be fixed with a cocktail party or a nature hike. And finally, because it can’t be posted enough, here is the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)