What we are experiencing in personal & public life today is more than loneliness, it is a crisis of belonging. Without question, the COVID 19 pandemic exacerbated the conditions for loneliness. It is also true that the current epidemic of loneliness was firmly established long before 2020 when the pandemic took over our lives. For many COVID created isolation with a breakdown in social connections. For others it was too much contact with the entire family, including extended family, locked in together for the better part of 2 years. Often, more contact did not equal more connectedness.
On April 20, 2022, John Leland , Metro reporter for the New York times, wrote about the impact of the loneliness epidemic on our physical & mental health. https: //www. nytimes. com/2022/04/20/nyregion/loneliness
Loneliness, as defined by mental health professionals, is a gap between the level of connectedness that you want and what you have. It is not the same as social isolation, which is codified in the social sciences as a measure of a person’s contacts. Loneliness is a subjective feeling. People can have a lot of contact and still be lonely or be perfectly content by themselves.
According to The Cigna Group, a global health company, somewhere between a third and two-thirds of Americans report being lonely. Loneliness exists on a feedback loop: Fraying cultural bonds, damaging physical health and reducing social contact. These factors exacerbate loneliness and are exacerbated by it, to the point that loneliness lowers life expectancy.
Loneliness is a challenging phenomenon for researchers to quantify, but there are telltale signs — and they point to a society losing its way. For example, the number of Americans who report having no close friends at all has quadrupled since 1990, according to a Survey by the Center on American Life. An average American in 2021 spent 58 percent less time with friends than in 2013, the Census Bureau found. This is a dramatic shift but not the whole story.
So, what is it that creates belonging?
For Christmas, my best friend gave me a little book, that had a big impact for me. It’s called The Book of Hygge, The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort and Connection by Louisa Thompson Brits. Hygge is a Danish concept that centers a way of being with others and with ourselves. At the core of hygge is a deep level of contentment.
Definition of Hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah) is a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered.
Hygge is an experience of selfhood and communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation. To hygge is to invite intimacy and connection. It’s a feeling of engagement and relatedness, of belonging to the moment and to each other. Hygge is a sense of abundance and contentment. Hygge is about being, not having.
According to the World Happiness Report the Danes are known to be among the happiest people in the world. So, it is not a surprise that they would embrace a principle centered on belonging & contentment in daily life.
My BFF knew that I had been considering the quality of my connections for some time. I’ve always had an active social life with many friends & more things to do than there is time to do them. Still, a tinge of pandemic loneliness hung onto me even as life returned to normal & my dance card was entirely full. At the close of 2022 it was time to refocus my intentions on improving the quality of my connections over the quantity of activities.
I knew that to create true belonging begins with connecting to ourselves before we can ever hope to connect with others. My teacher & mentor, Martha Beck describes it this way in The Joy Diet, her little book written & published in 2003. “Nothing, nothing at all is the first ingredient you must add to your life when you go on the Joy Diet. ” She goes on to say “Every ancient tradition holds that from this still core of the self, this infinitely fertile emptiness, springs all that is authentic about you: your identity, your ability to recognize truth, the real operating instructions for your life. “
I’m here to tell you there is a path from loneliness to true belonging no matter your current circumstances. Here are the steps I’ve used in my own life & work.
- Believe your life can change.
- Connect with your body, especially your heart.
- Listen to your deepest desires & needs.
- Know what leads to freedom.
- Let go of the expectations of others.
- Recognize fear but don’t let it drive.
- Do the next right thing…turtle steps.
It’s a simple formula and like most things worth doing, not necessarily easy. If you would like to talk more about it, grab a time on my calendar. I’d be so happy to connect.