The simple cure for Loneliness is on the rise. The most recent US data studied by John Cacioppo, a social neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, found that almost a quarter of people today are plagued by frequent loneliness, regardless of gender, race, or education levels. A 2010 AARP survey found that of the people age 45 and up who participated in their study, 35% reported chronic loneliness compared with 20% ten years ago.
This disturbing trend reflects the fact that increasing numbers of people are living alone, added to the decrease in people joining groups and organizations that in the past fostered a sense of community. Robert Putnam, Ph.D. from Harvard (Bowling Alone, 2001), puts the blame on the long-term decline in Americans’ civic engagement. Boomers and those younger have been less likely to join churches or other groups that supported feelings of belonging to something meaningful. The fact that a person has hundreds if not thousands of “friends” on Facebook can actually make loneliness worse, because we seem to need to be in the presence of each others’ bodies.
The hidden costs of this isolation are now linked to serious health problems such as depression, alcohol abuse, sleep disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, and even dementia and Alzheimer’s. The World Health Organization has rated loneliness as a higher risk to health than smoking and as great a risk as obesity. Lonely people’s immune systems become compromised, increasing their risk of health problems, as well as their feelings of discouragement that affect their willingness to practice good self care.
Despite this epidemic, there appears to be a positive correlation between spirituality and lower reports of loneliness. In a study by Jacqueline Olds, M.D., people who identify as “very religious or spiritual” report half the degree of loneliness than people who identify as “not religious at all.” People who attend religious or spiritual services once a month or more reported the lowest incidences of loneliness of all.
There is also a correlation between low reports of loneliness amongst people who donate their time to charities and other nonprofits. Volunteers who work together toward a common goal of helping others often develop meaningful relationships with each other.
It appears that spirituality is good for your physical, emotional, and relational health. Research indicates that the best prescription to prevent loneliness is to meet with others on a regular basis, join and become active in groups, volunteer for causes you believe in, and to put into action your understanding that we are all in this together.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth