3 Ways to Banish Loneliness and Build Happy Relationships
Feeling left out? Disconnected? Start cultivating meaningful relationships.
Posted Jul 26, 2019
Do you often alone or left out? Do you feel there’s a lack of meaning in your relationships? You are not alone. In fact, nearly 50 percent of people feel lonely or left out, while over 40 percent feel their relationships lack meaning.
What's more, on a daily basis, only 50 percent of people have an extended conversation or quality time with someone significant in their life. In fact, those having meaningful daily time were far less lonely than those who lacked this connection!
These findings and more are part of the Loneliness Index created by Cigna. This robust survey used the UCLA Loneliness Scale and was sent out to over 20,000 people aged 18 and older throughout the continental U.S., Hawaii, and Alaska.
But here are some other interesting, noteworthy points from the survey:
- The loneliest generation was found to be Gen Z (18-22).
- The least lonely generation was the Greatest Generation (72+).
What was found to positively shift loneliness was bringing life balance into focus, such as through getting enough sleep, physical activity, and connections with others. But because loneliness is a complex topic, let’s take a deeper dive by looking at some research about how our social networks impact our emotional life.
Nicholas Christakis, a Harvard Medical School professor, and James Fowler, a natural and social sciences professor with the University of California at San Diego, explored how social networks act as a circuit through which happiness spreads.
Researchers examined the relationships of more than 5,000 individuals who were initially part of the 1948 Framingham Heart Study, which examined the causes of cardiovascular disease. The second generation of participants joined the study in 1971, giving researchers a social network that was expanded to several degrees of separation for each volunteer.
The social networks study showed that negative factors, such as obesity and smoking, tended to spread among networks—but so did positive factors, such as happiness. According to the findings, knowing a happy individual produces a 15.3 percent greater likelihood that you will be happier as well—there’s even a 9.8 percent increase in your chances of being happy if one of your friends has a happy friend.
I guess you could call it the “two-degrees-of-separation happiness,” demonstrating that proximity is a compelling aspect of happiness.
Having a happy friend or relative who lives in another city will not significantly affect one’s happiness, though, because happiness seems to thrive on contact. You catch it, much like a cold, only from physically close contact with others. Researchers also found that connecting with others via the Internet or telephone does not produce the same degree of happiness that occurs with face-to-face contact.
So, let’s bring together some of the salient aspects of these different studies:
- Life balance matters.
- Face-to-face connections matter.
- Emotions, like a virus, can spread.
- Loneliness is not permanent!
I added this last point, because loneliness is very much a function of our behaviors and lifestyles, and those can be changed. A mindfulness or reflective practice teaches the truth of impermanence, which is vital to remember. So even when things happen outside of our control that affect our loneliness, we can still take action. Those whom we choose to be around can have a profound impact on our happiness.
Here are three simple and profound methods for bringing greater balance into your life and enhancing meaning in your relationships.
1. Regulate Your Emotions With Present-Moment Life Balance
If you don’t feel balanced, you won’t connect with others optimally. This means getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating well. Include mindfulness, meditation, or other practice that gets you present and focused. As the Cigna study points out, don’t underestimate these factors
2. Get a Dose of Face-to-Face Time Daily
This is not digital face-time, which is nice, but an honest-to-goodness in-person connection with another significant person. I’ve actually had people ask me if “turning off the TV during the commercial” was adequate. Take a digital break to spend 10 or 15 minutes having a good, old-fashioned, meaningful conversation!
3. Catch Emotional Happiness and Share One Upbeat Story
Be mindful of how your surroundings—from media to people—are affecting your emotional well-being. One strategy to connect positively is to share an upbeat story with another person, at work or elsewhere. By doing this, you will selectively be looking for the positive in your world each day.
Use these three steps, and you’ll transform loneliness into meaningful relationships one interaction at a time.