All the Lonely People

From The Wall Street Journal:

In recent years, surveys have shown that a large percentage of Americans feel lonely or socially isolated. (One such survey, published in January, put the figure at 61%.) The restrictions prompted by Covid-19 have surely triggered even more such feelings. At a time when technology supposedly fosters new levels of interpersonal connectivity, how did we get to this place? What are the broader effects? What should we do?

Those are some of the questions that Vivek Murthy, a doctor of internal medicine and a former surgeon general (2014-17), addresses in “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” Though written before “coronavirus” entered our lexicon, the book is a timely and well-reported meditation on a critical aspect of the American mind.

Dr. Murthy begins by highlighting research showing that isolation is not our natural state: We evolved as social beings. “Humans have survived as a species,” he writes, “not because we have physical advantages like size, strength, or speed, but because of our ability to connect in social groups. We exchange ideas. We coordinate goals. We share information and emotions.”

It follows that when we’re not routinely socializing, we feel that something is amiss. Researchers have found three “dimensions” of loneliness, Dr. Murthy reports: “intimate” (wanting a spouse or confidant), “relational” (seeking close friendships) and “collective” (desiring a community with common interests). To thrive, we need to find the right approach to each of them, and loneliness can result if even one is left unfulfilled.

Dr. Murthy draws a distinction between loneliness and solitude. While solitude “is a state of peaceful aloneness or voluntary isolation,” loneliness is “burdened with shame.” He describes his own battle with loneliness as a child, saying that he didn’t want to tell his parents about it because doing so would have conveyed more than an absence of friends: “It would feel like admitting I wasn’t likable or worthy of being loved.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)