Our culture is suffering an epidemic of loneliness—here are a few simple things you can do to make friends and bring more meaning into your life.
The sudden realization of feeling lonely has been described by Dr. Mehmet Oz as part of a growing epidemic of loneliness afflicting our culture. Maybe you recently moved and have had more trouble than expected meeting new people. Or perhaps you noticed you barely know most of your social media “friends.” You may be a new parent and have realized your support group is smaller than you need. Feeling miserable, lonely, and lost? The good news is that you have plenty of company.
But it is cold comfort to know there are many others reading this who are as lonely as you are. So here are ten ways to beat the loneliness epidemic.
1. Spend less time on social media
Let’s start with the most obvious. It’s depleting, time-consuming and all too often it is a substitute for genuine and enriching human contact. Social media certainly has its place for keeping in touch, but studies show that too much use of it can lead to feelings of insecurity, competition and envy. They also show we’re deluding ourselves if we think it can’t happen to us.
Most importantly, social media can leave us feeling emotionally cheated despite our dozens or hundreds of “friends.”
Where was the shared joke over coffee, or the well-timed wink that led to the giggles? Virtual hugs and emojis are just no substitute for the real thing. We are fatigued by the illusion, the pretense, the endless self-marketing of selfies and status updates.
2. Seek quality over quantity of friends
S.E. Hinton said, “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.” We can open our hearts to a wide circle of family, friends and acquaintances, but our gratitude is enhanced if we can find and cherish some true confidants. A best friend might be a parent, a sibling, or a spouse. So you might not have a big group of friends to meet for brunch and exchange jokes and stories, or you might not have a conventional “best friend” you’ve known since elementary school, but the truth is, if there’s another human being you can unburden your heart to, or who confides in you, you are lucky. If you don’t have this sort of friend, rest assured, there’s someone else out there who is great but needs the company of just the unique sort of person you are, and you will find that friend when the time is right.
3. Read classic books of quality (look for good shows & music, too)
C.S. Lewis said, “I read to know I am not alone.” That is the power of a great book. It’s hard to feel lonely or anything but awesome when you grab a classic like Pride and Prejudice or The Chronicles of Narnia and sit by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate. Suddenly, your alone time becomes something to savor: with each turn of the page, you become as content as a Hobbit in the Shire. Besides, if you’re lonely, why not read about great lonely characters? Jane Eyre, Robinson Crusoe and Pip from Great Expectations are waiting to be your friends. This advice applies to what you choose to watch and listen to, also. Dark, “gritty” shows or vacuous reality romps aren’t meant to feed the soul, and it is likely you’ll feel unfulfilled when they are over. Try Masterpiece Theatre for some depth, or re-runs of feel-good shows like Little House on the Prairie that makes you optimistic about life, or something silly that makes you belly laugh till your sides hurt. Listen to amazing music that elevates your senses.
MORE TO READ: A quest to build deeper friendships
4. Cultivate your own interests
As my grandmother would glibly say, “You have to be able to stand your own company.” So know what you like and find something you like to do with you! Bonus points if you are able to cultivate a hobby or interest that is practiced alone, because you’ll have strategies in place to bring joy where loneliness might have crept in. Maybe you can play an instrument or take up knitting, crafting, or wood-working.
5. Practice kindness to strangers
Holding doors and saying “please” and “thank you,” with a compliment thrown in if you feel so moved, can really humanize the day. It reminds you that you are connected to a wider community beyond yourself. Our ancestors went to the marketplace and chatted, connecting with their neighbor, as they sold and/or purchased wares. We have this same need in us still, and saying “have a great day” as you leave the bank and complimenting a woman’s adorable baby on the way out can spread this warmth to others, who may just pay it forward. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’ve just exchanged positive small talk with folks you might otherwise not have.
6. Ask questions & listen more than you talk
When you do have lunch with a friend, or squeeze in a phone call, listen and ask questions, don’t just spout. This will do two things: it will take you outside of yourself (a guaranteed loneliness-buster) and help your friend feel like calling you again!
MORE TO READ: The art of friendmaking
7. Be a joiner
Friends may be where your interests lie. I met my matron of honor at flamenco class. Ever wanted to take a cooking class or learn French or Italian? Your kindred spirit might, too! Even if you don’t meet anyone you forge a lifelong friendship with, you’ll learn something and be less bored. Boredom-busters beat back the blues. Just made that up, feeling proud! Now say that with me, fast.
8. Give to a charity
Your time, talent or treasure can make all the difference to someone else. It’s impossible to feel lonely when you are giving. Volunteer your time at an outreach center or soup kitchen, empty your closet of gently-used coats and give to a shelter, and donate to a worthy cause such as the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
9. Attend church
Boom, instant company of the best kind! And by attending church regularly you will get, over time, a church family, people who will pray for you when you are going through hardships and vice versa, people to watch your family grow up and worship with them through the years.
10. Practice works of mercy
There are the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works. Practice these and you’ll be so busy being genuinely fulfilled that you won’t have time to feel lonely. Note that “visit the sick” includes the elderly, folks who might not be ill but too weak to get out much. They struggle with loneliness all the time, and wonder if they are still relevant and have a valuable place in this world. Let them know they do! Instead of simply researching your family tree online, visit the elders in your family and ask them to recall stories. This will make their day and you’ll have new oral tradition that will enhance your sense of who you are and what you are from.
11. Enter Gethsemane
When you feel lonely, pray—wherever you are. Remember that Christ had all his friends fall asleep when he was the most frightened and sorrowful. Keep him company in that lonely garden, through your prayers.
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