In a world that has become increasingly connected, you would think that it would be easy to fight loneliness. In reality, the opposite is true. Loneliness is still a big problem and it’s likely to get worse as more baby boomers reach retirement age.
Part of the problem is that more people than ever are living by themselves. According to the New York Times, 200-million adults across the world are living alone. This represents an increase of 33 percent from 1996 to 2006.
Of course, “living alone” is not the same as “being lonely.” Many of us enjoy our independence and like living by ourselves. However, for those of us that are not alone by choice, finding ways to stay connected is critically important to our health and happiness.
Since launching Sixty and Me, I have had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of our members. Through these conversations, I have noticed several things about our most socially successful members. These behaviors will help you to fight loneliness and stay connected, even if you live by yourself.
When you live by yourself, it’s easy to get stuck in your own routines. Sometimes this is a good thing. It’s nice to be able to walk around the house in your underwear, eat breakfast whenever you want and watch your choice of movies. On the other hand, when you live alone, you need to make an extra effort to get out of the house and interact with others.
Find things to look forward to. You have a busy life and so do your family and friends. So it’s best to book social activities as far in advance as possible.
Don’t wait for other people to come to you. Be a source of new ideas. Tell your friends that you are going out on a certain night and invite them to come along. Try a new cooking class and see who wants to join you. Whatever you do, do something.
Several studies have shown that people who attend religious services tend to be healthier than people who do not. Exploring your spirituality can be a great way to stay connected after 50. But, even if you aren’t a particularly religious person, you can still find a club or group that gives you a sense of purpose.
What do you believe in? What passions do you want to explore? No matter what you care about, there are certain to be other people who feel the same way.
One of the great things about being over 50 is that you have a lifetime of skills, talents and experiences to share with the world. If your kids have left the house, you may also have a little extra time to volunteer. Research shows that baby boomers are helping to drive an increase in volunteering among older adults as we approach retirement age.
Volunteering is a great way to stay connected with old friends if you care about the same causes. It can also be a great way to meet new people who are passionate about the same things that you are.
If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, you may want to take a explore Volunteermatch.org. No matter how you want to change the world, they can help you to find an organization that needs your help.
A lot has been written recently about how technology is making us more isolated. Of course, technology isn’t the problem. How we use technology is the problem.
For example, Facebook is a fantastic tool for staying in touch with friends and family, but, most of us use it as a glorified news reader. We are perfectly willing to sit back and watch our friends’ lives fill our screens, but, we seldom reach out and ask the tough questions that make intimacy possible.
Skype is another fantastic service for staying in touch. Many people say that their video calls with their grandkids are one of the highlights of their week. I’m definitely one of these people! My granddaughter and I often have virtual ice-cream eating parties together, even though we live hundreds of miles apart. Sometimes maintaining long-distance relations just requires a bit more creativity.
When your family lives all over the world, getting everyone together takes time and effort. Finding a location that everyone can easily reach is a great first step. Once again, taking control is often the best strategy. Suggest a family trip to a cabin in the mountains, plan a skiing weekend or offer to organize an adventure tour.
Making the weekend a “destination event” will make it more likely that people will attend. Sites like Airbnb.com have tons of affordable places to stay and it’s usually more fun to stay in a house than a hotel room – especially if your grandkids are coming along.
Sending a handwritten letter to someone you love is one of the best ways to express your feelings. Your letters may even form a part of your legacy. As Anna Quindlen wrote: “Words on paper confer a kind of immortality.” Wouldn’t all of us love to receive a letter, memoir or journal from someone that we love?
Writing a letter is an entirely different experience than writing an email. It isn’t “efficient.” It takes time. You have to pick each word with care. That’s the whole point. So, the next time you have something important to say, why not say it in a letter?
How do you fight off loneliness and stay connected if you live alone? What advice would you give to a single friend who is feeling a bit lonely? Please join the conversation.