After reviewing several scientific evidence showing the fact, I'm urgently seeking a way to break my loneliness. To my friends, former/current colleagues, or random strangers, let's (re)connect.
Surprisingly, it is proven that the negative impact of social isolation is not only on mental health but physical condition and longevity in general.
NOTE: Loneliness and social isolation are different in a precise sense, but this article uses them almost interchangeably; we assume a person feels loneliness and is socially isolated with limited human relationships, which corresponds to my current situation.
Statistically speaking, smoking, alcoholic, and/or obesity are bad. No doubt. However, at the same time, not everyone dies due to these trivial reasons; there are many "unknowns" of which factor contributes to our death. Here, scientific research has revealed that a good chunk of health issues can be associated with loneliness or the lack of social relationships:
- Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review in PLoS Med (2010)
- Myeloid differentiation architecture of leukocyte transcriptome dynamics in perceived social isolation in PNAS (2015)
I originally found these studies on Nir Eyal's book entitled Indistractable, and we can partially read the particular section at: Happiness Hack: This One Ritual Made Me Much Happier. The book itself is simply great, and we see many practical techniques for quality habit formation based on strong scientific evidence the author previously introduced in another eye-opening book, Hooked. But eventually, the single statement kept sticking to my mind—"The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period." quoting Robert Waldinger's TED talk about "The Good Life".
For the reasons mentioned above, the constitution of World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as follows.
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Yes, social wellbeing does define our health.
How to break loneliness
How can we practice social wellbeing, by building relationships and maintaining them?
Importantly, our life relies on relativity, and as I highlighted in a separate article, we establish various relationships at different granularity: Society, personal relationship, and individual. There are several actions we could take at the different levels, according to a health & wellbeing expert Yoshiki Ishikawa in his Japanese book, as well as what's written in Indistractable.
- To interact with society: Donate, volunteer, join local community and interest group
- To maintain personal relationship: Consistently have an opportunity to meet, talk, date, play with friends, colleagues, and loved ones
- To stay connected with "myself" (individual): Mediate, sleep well, be positive e.g., by listing positive things before sleeping, smiling, wishing other's happiness
By using the list of potential actions, I'd like to strategize my lifestyle in the coming days so that I can grow and maintain my social, personal, and individual relationships.
Quantity vs. quality of relationship
When it comes to friendship, quality vs. quantity is a common question everyone has different opinions.
On one hand, Yoshiki Ishikawa states "the diversity of relationship matters" in his book referenced above. In practice, a key point of the loneliness-health discussion is tied to stress management, and more diverse social relationships enable us to more easily relieve stress caused by one of them. For example, we can get rid of work-related stress thanks to weekend activities by shifting a focus to something different; if you were literally working for 24/7, there is no space to escape from the root cause, while more social relationships will create more spaces.
Meanwhile, in the Nir Eyal's article, the importance of quality relationship is quoted, saying we need social interaction with "somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy." Even if you have thousands of "friends," I doubt that all of them satisfy these three criteria altogether. In my case, since ensuring the co-existence of "dependable" and "enjoyable" is not easy, I can only think of less than 10 people across the globe if I seriously take the criteria.
Having said that, a strong relationship is not something that automatically emerges, and such a relationship normally starts from one of many random interactions at first. Thus, I'd personally focus more on diversity at this moment so that I can increase the odds of establishing truly valuable relationships in the long run. Notice that "diversity" actually means more than what we typically think, and this point also reminds me of what I stated as part of 2022 new year resolution:
Leave the comfort zone. The fundamental motivation here is to diversify my perspective with a different cadence and break echo chambers & filter bubbles.
In fact, a quarter of the year has already passed. Even though I had several good social interactions during the past winter season and did start regularly meeting with some people online/offline, there are still many areas of improvement. As a single, immigrant, and working-from-home software engineer, I can be easily lonely unless I explicitly make some effort.
^ This is me 10 years ago. Someone jokingly took the photo of lonely person when we were at quiet lakeside, but I think it clearly depicts how my current life looks like.
I do enjoy the quiet life, and it is actually very comfortable. But I can clearly say I'm not healthy if I follow the WHO's definition. So, it's time to break the situation.
- Runner's Search for Identity
- Starting with Empathy to #GetReal, Beat Loneliness, and Be Ethical. #MentalHealthWeek
- 3 Pillars of Ethics' Scope: Society, Personal Relationship, and Individual
Last updated: 2022-09-02
Author: Takuya Kitazawa
Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. With a decade of experience at start-up companies and Big Tech ranging from full-stack/machine-learning engineering to data science to product management, I am currently working at the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications. See CV for more information.Support by donation Gift a cup of coffee
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