- A large-scale, international study found that character strengths are important for handling loneliness.
- These character strengths are love, spirituality, social intelligence, perspective, and hope.
- Character strengths can help build social health.
Do you ever feel lonely? Excluded? Isolated from others?
When you have felt this way, which character strength (from this list of 24) was most helpful to lift you up?
I asked more than 12,000 people from 128 countries to offer their insights. Here is what I found.
#1 Social Strength: Love
This character strength was defined as being genuine, showing warmth, and valuing close relationships.
Love is like a connective tissue for our social life — it creates and solidifies bonds in any of our relationships at work, home, and community. When you are feeling the pangs of loneliness, one act of love can have a transforming effect. You can express one loving sentence or offer a warm embrace. Or, you can open yourself to being on the receiving end of a warm embrace or loving sentence (the key is being open to receiving that care from someone).
If there are no people around, you might turn to loving-kindness meditation and imagine a situation when you felt very loved by someone, allowing the feelings of love to flow in your body and mind.
#2 Social Strength: Spirituality
This character strength was defined as searching for meaning; feeling purpose in life; connecting with the sacred.
When you are lonely, walk outside. If you look around you — at the sky, the trees, wildlife — you are part of something much larger than yourself. Notice this fact. Feel it. It is “life” that is surrounding you. Allow that to fill you with meaning and interconnection. You can see that you are not alone. There is so much life with you right now. If you connect with the sacred around you, then you are flowing with a strategy that research shows can impact your loneliness.
#3 Social Strength: Social Intelligence
This character strength was defined as being aware of the feelings and motives of self/others; acting accordingly.
One word: Empathy. A way to handle feelings of isolation and upset is to see that others are suffering too — often with the same struggles. This places you in perfect position to empathize — or “feel with” them. In turn, they may empathize and feel your pain too. Whether they do or not, you can also empathize with your own suffering, reminding yourself of the normalcy of the feelings you are having.
Social intelligence can also be used to ask for help and to share your inner experiences in an honest way. It might not always feel natural and comfortable. In fact, sometimes you might have to “force yourself” to be social. Research shows that one way to make a change with your personality is to “fake it until you make it.” So, make one phone call, send a couple text messages or social media posts, or get yourself out into that recreation group. With some practice of forcing it, it will feel more authentic.
#4 Social Strength: Perspective
This character strength was defined as providing wise counsel; taking a big picture view.
The feeling of loneliness is very narrowing. Our attention becomes preoccupied and limited, our body heavy. In many ways, perspective has the opposite effect. Perspective is about opening up widely and being light enough to see and envision the larger reality, the bigger possibilities. You can assume those possibilities are always there, right in this moment now. Sometimes, you need to trust they are there and look for them.
This strength is also about providing wisdom to others. Research has shown that we can build our wisdom by flipping this approach — by providing ourselves wise advice. Therefore, answer this: If a friend or co-worker asked you what they could do to feel less lonely, what would you tell them?
#5 Social Strength: Hope
This character strength was defined as being optimistic; positive; future-minded; expecting the best.
Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul; and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all. When I recall these words of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, I shift toward the good, toward what is possible, toward the silver lining. Many times when we feel excluded or isolated, we only need a small reminder of that “thing” within us that is already there propelling us forward.
The people have spoken! These were the most reported character strengths used to manage or overcome loneliness and isolation. Of course, there are many more interventions and approaches you can deploy, including turning to 19 other core character strengths within you. But you can start by expressing one of these five as a focal point and then expand from there!
Niemiec, R. M. (2022). Mental Health and Character Strengths: The Dual-Role of Boosting Well-Being and Reducing Suffering. Mental Health and Social Inclusion. Manuscript submitted for publication.
VIA Institute on Character (2022): World Database on Character.
Saedi-Bocci, G., & Niemiec, R. M. (2021). The Positivity Workbook for Teens. New Harbinger.