Rethinking Loneliness – How the Search for Friendship is Really the Search for Ourselves
Loneliness is a complex problem. For starters, being alone is not the same as being lonely. Our feelings of loneliness come from how we interpret our situation, not from the simple fact that we are by ourselves.
In addition, many of the common recommendations for countering loneliness completely ignore the complex psychological factors that contribute to our feelings of isolation. For example, telling someone to “get out there and make friends” is overly simplistic and counterproductive.
At the same time, just because loneliness is a difficult issue, doesn’t mean that it can’t be solved. Nor does it mean that we can avoid responsibility for finding friendship and happiness after 60.
It simply means that addressing loneliness requires an integrated approach – and this has to start with ourselves.
To Deal with Loneliness, Start by Understanding Yourself
It may sound obvious, but, no two people experience loneliness in exactly the same way. We all have our own loneliness “triggers” and “defense mechanisms.”
Perhaps you feel especially lonely when you think about a friend or romantic partner that you lost. Or, maybe you find yourself reaching for a bucket of chocolate-chip ice-cream when you think about your social life. Everyone is different.
The first step to taking control is to bring your feelings of loneliness out from your subconscious and into your conscious awareness.
Take a few minutes to answer the following questions. When do you feel most lonely? Are there certain “triggers,” such as seeing a photograph or being in a certain place that make you feel lonely? What positive of negative behaviors do you engage in when you feel lonely? Are there any behaviors that you engage in that tend to keep others away? What do you think people appreciate most about you?
Focus on What You Can Control and Start Small
Ironically, the best way to start addressing your feelings of loneliness may have nothing to do with other people. Why? Because, you can’t control other people. You can only control yourself.
The simple truth is this – the better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to meet other people. The stronger you are, the more likely you will be to engage in physical activities and sports, where you can meet others. The more you follow your passions, the better your chances will be of meeting like-minded people.
The good news is that you don’t need to do everything at once. In fact, sometimes the biggest changes require the smallest first steps. One highly effective trick that I use is the “1-minute technique.” If you can spare a minute today, I promise that it will help you to accomplish any goal, no matter how difficult.
Don’t worry about solving all of your problems today. Pick one small goal and focus on it. Maybe you want to go for a walk every day. Or, perhaps you will commit to sitting less. Perhaps you want to start a blog on a topic that you care about. There is no “right” place to start – as long as you start small and focus on something that you care about.
The important thing is to increase the level to which you feel in control of your own life.
Make the Most of Life and Making Friends Will be Easy
I could give you a list of 50 ways to meet people, but, I suspect that such a list wouldn’t be terribly helpful. We all know that we can say hi to people at coffee shops. We all know that we can take a dance class, join the gym, or volunteer. We aren’t missing ideas for activities. We are missing confidence, willpower, trust, desire or self-esteem.
The best way to make friends is to make the most of your life. Instead of worrying about finding people, worry about finding a purpose. Ask yourself why you are here and what you want to do with your life.
Then, take action, not because you are fighting loneliness, but, because you are fighting for something that you believe in.
Start giving back – to yourself and others. This is the long path to friendship, but, it is also the most sure.
Do you agree that the search for true friendship is the search for ourselves? Why or why not? What advice would you give to a friend who is struggling with loneliness? Please join the discussion.
Watch my interview with Dr. Dale Atkins on the topic of dealing with loneliness in retirement.