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The History of Loneliness

The tragedy of loneliness

... is that lonely people can’t see that lots of people feel the same way they do.
Loneliness seems to be such a painful, frightening experience that people will do anything to avoid it. We shut down the lonely, afraid that this might be some kind of a contagious situation.

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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

The History of Loneliness

The History of Loneliness

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/04/06/the-history-of-loneliness

newyorker.com

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Key Ideas

Loneliness before quarantine

We crave intimacy. And yet, long before the present pandemic, with its forced isolation and social distancing, humans had begun building their own separate cells. 

Before modern times, very few human beings lived alone.

Loneliness is a form of grief

It is an umbrella term we use to cover for all sorts of things most people would rather not name and have no idea how to fix.
Plenty of people like to be alone. But solitude and seclusion are different from loneliness. Loneliness is a state of profound distress.

The evolutionary theory of loneliness

Primates need to belong to an intimate social group in order to survive; this is especially true for humans.
Separation from your group (either finding yourself alone or finding yourself among a group of people who do not know and understand you) triggers a fight-or-flight response.

Reacting with our bodies

Our bodies perceive being alone (or with strangers) as an emergency. Thus, our nervous system evolved to produce the anxiety we associate with loneliness.
We breathe fast, our heart races, our blood pressure rises, we don’t sleep. We act fearful, defensive, and self-involved, all of which drive away people who might actually want to help, and tend to stop lonely people from doing what would benefit them most: reaching out to others.

Modern loneliness

According to historian Fay Bound Alberti, modern loneliness is the child of capitalism and secularism.
Many of the divisions and hierarchies that have developed since the 18th century (between the individual and the world, individual and community, public and private) have been naturalized through the politics and philosophy of individualism.

Statistics

  • Before the 20thcentury, about 5% of all households (about 1% of the world population) consisted of just one person. That figure began rising around 1910, driven by urbanization, the decline of live-in servants, a declining birth rate, and the replacement of the traditional, multigenerational family with the nuclear family.
  • During the past half century, for the first time in human history, great numbers of people (of all ages, in all places, of every political preference) have begun settling down as singletons.

The tragedy of loneliness

... is that lonely people can’t see that lots of people feel the same way they do.
Loneliness seems to be such a painful, frightening experience that people will do anything to avoid it. We shut down the lonely, afraid that this might be some kind of a contagious situation.

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Loneliness Is a State of Mind

Loneliness, according to many experts, is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, if you feel alone and isolated, then that is how loneliness plays into your state of mind....

Causes
  • Loneliness is strongly connected to genetics. 
  • Situational variables, such as physical isolation, moving to a new location, divorce and the death of someone significant in a person's life can also lead to feelings of loneliness. 
  • Loneliness can be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression.
  • Loneliness can also be attributed to internal factors such as low self-esteem.
Health Risks Associated With Loneliness

Loneliness has a wide range of negative effects on both physical and mental health, including:

  • Depression and suicide
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Increased stress levels
  • Decreased memory and learning
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Poor decision-making
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse
  • The progression of Alzheimer's disease
  • Altered brain function

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The epidemic of loneliness

The elderly are lonely. Teens are lonely. People in cities and rural areas are lonely to such an extent that it is considered a public health issue.

One report found that nearly half of r...

Practice small talk

Talk to people you encounter throughout your day. When you enter a coffee shop, make a simple comment about the weather to make impersonal interactions a bit more friendly.

If you practice this small talk in a variety of situations, it's easier to start a conversation with people you want to get to know better.

Get comfortable

Many people desire any company because they don't like the discomfort when they are alone.

Learn to enjoy your own company. Start by reading, watching TED Talks that will make you think, or start a gratitude journal.

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Becoming less lonely

Ventilen, or “friend to one” in Danish, is an organization that helps 15-to-25-year-olds get together twice a week with two or three volunteers. Together, the people in the group play games, make ...

The prevalence of loneliness

Loneliness is becoming an "epidemic" and is associated with illnesses like heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, and longevity.

  • One study revealed that 22% of Americans, 23% of Brits, and 9% of Japanese adults said they felt lonely all the time.
  • 40% of people aged 16 - 24 said they were often lonely, according to the BBC.
Coming together

Back in 1999, a support group called Bright Point was formed to fill the need of friends. But when people came together, no one talked. It was only after games were introduced as a catalyst that friendships started forming. Later, making meals and exercising was added successfully.

The program is not without challenges. Many lonely people may feel intimidated and won't attend. But designating a space for gathering and activities is a good step toward tackling loneliness. 

Loneliness
Loneliness can be defined as a complex and unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. 

It can be either transient or chronic, and typically includes

Loneliness is damaging
Lonely people eat and drink more, and exercise and sleep less. They are at higher risk of developing psychological problems such as alcoholism, depression, and psychosis, and physical problems such as infection, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Loneliness vs Solitude
Loneliness is the pain of being alone and is damaging. Solitude is the joy of being alone and is empowering.

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A public health problem

Most people consider loneliness a personal problem to be figured out by individuals. 

However, a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health identi...

Don’t blame social media

Among the theories on why there is more loneliness today is more time online and less time in front of people. 

However, levels of in-person interactions, physical and mental wellness and life balance are more likely to predict loneliness than social media usage.

Young and lonely

Generation Z (ages 18-22) had the highest loneliness scores, followed by the millennials (ages 23-37). The Greatest Generation (adults ages 72 and older) were the least lonely. 

Lonely people are less able to pick up on positive social stimuli, like others’ attention and commitment signals, so they withdraw prematurely – in many cases before they’re actually socially isolated.

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Loneliness is a perception issue
Loneliness is a perception issue

Loneliness has more to do with our perceptions than how much company we have: it is just as possible to feel very lonely surrounded by people as it is to be content with little social contact.

Olivia Laing
Olivia Laing

“Loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed but simply that one is alive.”

Dealing with loneliness through creativity

One way people have always dealt with loneliness is through creativity. By metamorphosing their reality into art, lonely people throughout history have managed to interchange the sense of community relationships could foster with their creative outputs.

The artist Edward Hopper (1882–1967) is known for his paintings of American cityscapes inhabited by closed-off figures who seem to embody a vision of modern loneliness.

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Community Is Vital

Loneliness is not a problem in traditional societies. For 99% of human existence, we lived in small tribes. We were constantly surrounded by family and friends. 

Research links loneli...

"Mens sana in corpore sano"

Having a healthy body is essential to having a sound mind. Exercising is a habit that’s been shown to lead people to create other, often unrelated, good habits. Exercising is also a proven way to improve the rate of learning.

"Know Thyself"

Knowing yourself allows you to seize opportunities and make better decisions as well as know what you and others should expect from you and how to counteract your personal flaws.

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Post-Breakup Loneliness

The process of breaking up can sometimes be compared to the death of a loved one.

Transitional Loneliness

Major changes can create a sense of loneliness, even if they're positive. You might be leaving a job or starting a new job, ending a relationship or embarking on a new relationship, getting married, getting divorced, [or] starting a family.

When struggling with the adjustment period, it can help to acknowledge the feeling and also acknowledge that it's likely temporary.

Caregiver Loneliness

There's very specific loneliness that can creep in when you're responsible for the care of another person — be it an elderly parent, a sick sibling, a disabled partner, etc.

So even though it's a big job, it's important to not forget about yourself. Find a supportive friend to talk to without judgment, or attend a support group.

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Loneliness

It isn’t defined by the number of people in your life; instead, it’s the distance between what you want out of your relationships and what you’re getting.

So it’s absolutely possible t...

Make small talk

Have quick, non-threatening conversations throughout the day: make small talk with your barista, the cashier at the grocery store, anyone you encounter who seems receptive.

Think of them as stretching a muscle: not the same as a full workout, but beneficial nonetheless. When you’re lonely, you go inward, and just stretching that little bit can kick-start a process that helps you feel better.

Find a state of flow

Do something you find totally engaging, to the point you lose track of time.

That activity doesn’t have to be mentally engaging or intellectually rigorous. Maybe it’s reading, running, or cleaning. If you’re truly immersed in what you’re doing, no matter what it is, you won’t have the mental space to be consumed by loneliness.

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Online Dating: A History
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Online dating didn’t really begin with the advent of the internet.

The need to communicate to other human beings for love, companionship and sex goes back centuries, with each new technolog...

The First Personal Ads

With the advent of the modern newspaper in 1690, it took a mere five years for the first personal ads to appear in Britain.

One of the very first personal ads was from a 30-year-old man who was seeking young women with a good personal fortune.

Forbidden Affairs

LGBT communities took to the discreet personal ads, as homosexuality was banned in the UK till as late as 1967.

The 1700s saw the first ads with coded words, female names as an attempt to find companionship, forbidden by society.

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