Beyond the Loneliness Epidemic

More than a decade ago, the loneliness epidemic became a trend, another societal problem to solve like poverty and access to clean water. Solutions were proposed without questioning what loneliness actually means. Futurists talked about cocooning and profited from the predicted trends.

Home sound systems, streaming, TV dinners, medications—many solutions were thrown at lonely consumers. But addressing the root cause of loneliness? Nah, that didn’t make money. It became just another mental health epidemic.

When all else failed, governments created new Ministers of Loneliness positions to cure our dis-ease. No, this is not a new streaming show. This is reality. With reality TV that is mostly staged, no one really knows what’s real anymore. And it’s no wonder.

Imagine if we looked at the root cause of this loneliness epidemic and worked together to find another way. That is truly possible. But instead, companies provide solutions to profit from loneliness. This is far from altruistic.

Companies often use technology to bring people together in person to tackle loneliness. Adam Neumann, WeWork founder, recently shared that loneliness inspired his new tech-enabled apartment rental company, Flow. People keep funding his “solutions.”

Predicting cocooning missed the whole picture. Societal breakdown from lacking strong relationships with ourselves and each other may cause our unrest. When we work two or three jobs (even at one job!), we’re too busy or tired to do anything else.

We can’t blame technology for our choices. Yes, we can cocoon at home, make popcorn, and binge on shows or movies. But we can also go outside and connect with people and nature. The barrier between being inside and outside our homes is manmade.

What if there is no one to blame? And we look at the opportunities to connect? Perhaps we not only imagine the communities we want but also create them. Because no one will do it for us.

Imagine us having strong relationships where we share and create together. A world where we don’t need programs to connect because we have the courage to create dialogue circles based on what we care about. A healthy world where we talk about how we truly feel without pretending.

This means building trust in ourselves and each other.  We can be in a room full of people and feel alone. So, the most important work anyone will ever do is inner work. When we are whole, societal loneliness fades away. We see the natural wonders of the world and turn down the volume on trends and predictions.

We don’t need to stuff ourselves or find blame when we wake up to our true power. And we stop freaking out about exclusion because we don’t want to be part of unhealthy structures.

When we realize we are not machines and don’t need to be efficient and productive, a healthy world opens up. We learn who we resonate with and who isn’t for us. Imagine our kids becoming discerning instead of compliant consumers.

Can we wait for more social services, policies, and programs to “fix” the loneliness epidemic? Or do we learn from nature, get sunshine, and appreciate what we have? Bandaid solutions only stop the bleeding. We can ask ourselves what we truly need and do our part. No expert, outside ourselves, really knows the answer to how we connect heart to heart.

Related: Emotional Intelligence: Navigating Beyond Convention