"Christmas is coming and I have no plans" said Marie recently divorced. Melissa, married for sixty years to someone who now has a major disability, said "I am lonely. Bruce is not well and sleeps most of the day. I am going to get a dog." Another couple said they were selling their home and moving to a retirement community so they could have instant companions. Morris spends most of his time with his wife Ruth who has Alzheimer's. He is very loving and also very lonely.
There seems to be a loneliness epidemic. AARP The Magazine found in their survey of 3,012 people ages 45 and up that "35 percent are chronically lonely...compared with 20 percent ... a decade ago." Those in their 40's and 50's report the most loneliness. The authors differentiate situational loneliness from chronic loneliness. Robert Putnam, Harvard professor and author of Bowling Alone, confirms the decline of civic engagement. Both AARP and Putnam suggest that the antidote to loneliness is maintaining and increasing social connections (Brad Edmondson, AARP The Magazine, November/December 2010).
I am taking away several things from the survey:
1. All of us will be lonely at various times and a few of us will feel lonely all the time;
2. We do not have to be lonely- we can counter situational loneliness by increasing our social networks; and
3. Loneliness must be dealt with especially during the Holiday season. If you do not have a gathering spot, your aloneness will be intensified.
I interviewed Marcia after she married and moved. She was excited about her new life but found herself despondent much of the day. She realized that she lonely for her family and friends. She felt confused. She should be happy but instead was sad. Here is what Marcia did; here is what anyone who feels lonely can do:
Join a Support Group-Marcia talked with the minister of her church who suggested she join a support group sponsored by the church for those who had recently moved to the area. She felt very shy at first, but forced herself to go. She very quickly made connections.
Volunteer-Marcia began to volunteer for a homeless shelter. There is evidence that volunteering prolongs life, increases well-being, and connects you to others. The bottom line--by giving to others you feel you "matter", that you are appreciated, depended upon and noticed. (See my blog, "My Take On Happiness-The Need to Matter")
Reach out to neighbors who are alone-Marcia invited two neighbors who she thought would be alone for Christmas dinner. Look around and see if there is anyone you know who might be lonely and sad. If so, reach out to connect. Remember the helper therapy principal--by helping others you help yourself.
So, does Saturday night have to be the loneliest night in the week? The answer is no, Remember, it will take effort and strategizing on your part.
Nancy K. Schlossberg
Author, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping your Identity, Relationships and Purpose and Overwhelmed: Coping with Life's Ups and Downs