Holiday Loneliness

Katherine Mieszkowski at Salon:

Our profound need to feel connected is hardly a modern discovery. “No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world,” Aristotle wrote. Yet science is now bringing us closer to the biological roots of loneliness, revealing how it affects our mental and physical health. At the same time, philosophers have not stopped looking into the dark heart of loneliness, challenging us to face its existential roots. In very different ways, two recent books on loneliness argue that feeling chronically alone is a powerful sign to examine and strive to change our lives. And now is the season to start.

“The holidays can put us into such a harried state that we’re not actually able to connect with friends and family, to relax and enjoy their company,” says John Cacioppo, a neuroscientist and psychologist at the University of Chicago, and co-author of “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” Worse, all those holiday rituals of togetherness can serve to highlight just how far apart from each other we really feel. “Events that throw into relief the possibility of overcoming our loneliness are sometimes those that leave us most wrung out,” says Thomas Dumm, a political scientist at Amherst College, author of “Loneliness as a Way of Life.”

While most of us can successfully weather a few hours — or days — of the holiday blues, some 20 percent of people — roughly 60 million Americans — feel sufficiently socially isolated for it to be a major source of unhappiness in their lives. In fact, many lonely people are surrounded by friends and family, yet don’t feel close to any of them. Such intimate isolation — the feeling that no one understands who you are — appears to be on the rise. A study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona found that between 1985 and 2004 the average number of friends with whom Americans felt they could “discuss important matters” had dropped from three to two. The number who said they had no one with whom they could discuss important matters more than doubled to nearly 25 percent.   [more]

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2 thoughts on “Holiday Loneliness

  1. I absolutely love this article, I think originally posted in Salon.com. Katherine Mieszkowski did such an exceptional analysis of loneliness as a timeless phenomenon.

    As sentient beings we need to be needed — to know that we matter to someone. If you are alone for the holidays, repeatedly, the message is that you don’t actually matter to anyone, and that is devastating. It is essential to reach out and connect with people who need you as much as you need them.

    If you do not have the love and support of a healthy extended family, it is crucial to connect with people who care about you and who need & want your company as much as you them. Whether you have no family or are simply missing a vital relationship in your extended family circle, a more complete extended family will provide you with a more powerful support system.

    There is a new service that matches adults platonically to create surrogate extended family relationships. CreatingExtendedFamilies.com

  2. Pingback: Holiday Loneliness Antidotes? | Astramatch Blog

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