The Antidote To Loneliness

Every day, the Good Wife loads her car with buckets of garden tools and drives 8 miles to the church garden. Where she picks weeds, waters, and harvests the veggies and fruit of her labor. Beforehand, some days, she kayaks north along the edge of the Salish Sea before dipping into Gull Harbor to watch birds, admire sand dollars and other underwater life, and occasionally swim.

Newish neighbors with deep pockets recently clear-cutted their lot to build a very large sport court where I’ve never seen them or their children play tennis, basketball, or anything else.

Compared to the private Sport Courters, the Gal Pal is living life in public. Which means she meets people. And talks to them. From a safe distance these days.

Yesterday it was a school-aged boy on a bike. Well, she’s pretty sure it was a boy. Hair halfway down his back, his opening line was, “Cool garden.” They were off and running from there. A few weeks ago it was a random neighbor who left with some healthy food. 

The other night, at dusk, she cajoled me into dipping into the Salish with her. “WHY IS THERE SO MUCH STUFF IN THE WATER?!” She yelled at her native fishing friend who, because he’s native, is permitted to use large nets. When kayaking, she’s taken her time to get to know him. “I’M NOT SURE. THERE’S NO CURRENT EITHER AND THERE SHOULD BE!” Tonight’s salmon dinner will be compliments of him.

The church garden is what Eric Klinenberg calls “social infrastructure”, public places where people talk to one another. Same with our beach. The Gal Pal’s conversations with long-haired boys on bikes and fishermen is church. If church is about social connection.

If you’re lonely, know many others are too. Instead of a radical transformation, put a mask on, and at least once a day, leave the comfort of your private world and talk to someone, no matter how briefly. They’ll be a touch less lonely and so will you.   

The Lonely Majority

How loneliness could be changing your brain and body.

“A  2018 study. . . found that 54% of 20,000 Americans surveyed reported feeling lonely. In the span of a bit more than a year, the number rose to 61%. Generation Z adults 18-22 years old are supposedly the loneliest generation, outpacing Boomers, Gen X and Millennials, despite being more connected than ever.”

Wowza. The silent, underreported epidemic.

“Loneliness might conjure images of being apart from friends and family, but the feeling runs much deeper than not having plans on a Friday night or than going stag to a wedding. Evolutionarily, being part of a group has meant protection, sharing the workload and increased odds of survival. After all, humans take a long time to mature. We need our tribes.

‘It’s very distressing when we are not a part of a group,’ said Julianne Holt-Lundstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. ‘We have to deal with our environment entirely on our own, without the help of others, which puts our brain in a state of alert, but that also signals the rest of our body to be in a state of alert.’

Staying in that state of alert, that high state of stress, means wear and tear on the body. Stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine can contribute to sleeplessness, weight gain and anxiety over extended periods of exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic.”

What to do? Doug Nemecek, chief medical officer at Cigna:

“‘We need to reach out to some friends and make sure we maintain those connections and have meaningful conversations. It’s important for all of us to be comfortable asking other people how they feel.”

And for the lonely majority to risk being vulnerable when asked.

Is There a Loneliness Epidemic?

Sporadic small signs rim the perimeter of our our local high school with the message, “You are not alone.”

Are high schoolers and people more generally lonelier today than than in the past?

From “Is there a loneliness epidemic?”

“Surveys from rich countries do not suggest there has been an increase in loneliness over time. Today’s adolescents in the US do not seem to be more likely to report feeling lonely than adolescents from a couple of decades ago; and similarly, today’s older adults in the US do not report higher loneliness than did adults of their age in the past.

That’s of course not to say we should not pay attention to these topics.

It’s important to provide support to people who suffer from loneliness, just as it is important to pay attention to the policy challenges that come from large societal changes such as the rise of living alone. However, inaccurate, over-simplified narratives are unhelpful to really understand these complex challenges.”

Unless we improve math education, we’ll continue to be susceptible to “inaccurate, over-simplified narratives” of this nature.

National Greatness Reconsidered

Team USA is doing poorly in the World Cup of Basketball which is also serving as a 2020 Olympic qualifier. Even though several top NBA players chose not to play on Team USA, many US fans still assumed the team would prevail. Now they are disappointed.

The new international basketball reality, the world has closed the considerable gap the US historically had in basketball dominance, makes me wonder why the men’s US National Soccer Team is still a third or fourth tier program?

Much more importantly, why do we let our country’s athletic performances influence what we think about ourselves? At all.

It’s odd isn’t it, the way we count Olympic medals and feel a little better about ourselves, at least temporarily, when our countrymen/women excel in international competition.

Like most places, in the US we watch our teams closely and cheer them passionately, while we simultaneously incarcerate more people, childhood poverty and homelessness increases, gun violence persists, environmental regulations are undone, and loneliness and mental health challenges mount.

If we have to compete, why don’t we change the parameters? How about a World Cup of Prison Reform. The country that reduces their prison population and recidivism the most wins. The World Cup of Childhood Poverty and Homelessness. The country that moves the largest percentage of children out of poverty and reduces their homelessness population the most wins. The World Cup of Public Safety. The World Cup of Environmental Protection. The World Cup of Social Infrastructure.

Granted, those competitions won’t translate to television and will take a lot longer, but unlike the athletic ones, the outcomes will improve the long-term quality of our lives.

Wednesday Assorted Links

1. Research Puts Spotlight on the Impact of Loneliness in the U.S. and Potential Root Causes

The findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
  • Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).

2. Nearly half of jobs are vulnerable to automation.

“In 2013 Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne of Oxford University used—what else?—a machine-learning algorithm to assess how easily 702 different kinds of job in America could be automated. They concluded that fully 47% could be done by machines ‘over the next decade or two.'”

3. Mental health on a budget.

4. The Secret to Magic Mornings? Put The Kids to Work.

“Our kids — all daughters (and no, we aren’t and weren’t trying for a boy) — are ages 4 through 18. And over the years we’ve tried all kinds of systems and routines as we’ve tried to make mornings more manageable. Yelling didn’t work. Bribes and reward charts were more trouble than they were worth. Doing everything for them was unsustainable — we all were cranky.

So we kept tinkering with different ideas.

A while back we hit the jackpot with a plan that is finally working well.”

5. How Refugees Are Finding Home on an American Campus.

Proud of my former employer for resisting Trump’s xenophobia so concretely.