At a time where we are supposed to be more connected than ever, why is it that some of us actually feel more lonely than ever before? There is a misconception that living on your own means that you must also be lonely. This can also be exacerbated by media stereotypes portraying people living alone as actively seeking out someone to share their lives with and living space. Although fully aware feelings of loneliness can be apparent amongst people who live by themselves, there needs to be less presumption that living alone automatically means that you’re lonely.
What is becoming clear is that there is a distinguishing feature by which we can start to unpack the difference between being alone in solitude and being lonely – social connection. The feeling of being part of something, cared for and valued by others. Many people living solo have built support networks and communities for themselves, providing them with meaningful connections and being content spending time on their own.
In comparison, many people who experience loneliness allude to having large groups of friends and family. Yet, they do not feel connected, feeling outcast from those closest to them. The exploration into loneliness starts with an understanding of the differences between loneliness, solitude and social connection.
Solitude is often mistaken for loneliness. Being comfortable with solitude is an ability to be content in your own company. To experience thoughts and feelings in their rawest forms; and enjoying time engaging in activities without the need for others. Solitude can seem daunting for some people who may struggle to either occupy their time or find it challenging to be alone with their own thoughts.
It can lead to people looking for alternative ways to occupy themselves because they associate being on their own with something negative – the feeling of loneliness. This is not the first time Solo Living has explored feelings of loneliness. Back in 2018, Annabelle Fraser looked at what it is to feel lonely and how it can impact your life.
Daphne du Maurier’s 1930’s novel, Rebecca, depicts loneliness in a way that despite the passing of decades, is still relevant today:
“An empty house can be as lonely as a busy hotel.”
Loneliness is an emotional (and sometimes physical) response to the perception of isolation. This can be physical isolation away from others or social isolation away from family or peers. At its core, loneliness is brought on from the lack of meaningful connections with those around us.
More is being understood about the negative impact loneliness can have on individuals. However, it has always been largely accepted that there is a link between loneliness and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and an increased risk of developing a substance or alcohol dependency.
With recent stories such as Tony Williams who after losing his wife, made a poster asking for help to overcome his loneliness; it can easily be assumed the experience of being lonely is isolated to the elderly. However, more recently it appears younger generations are the most at risk of experiencing loneliness.
When talking about social connection, many may assume this refers to how connected you are online, how many followers or likes you have on the latest social media platform. In actual fact, the human race has always thrived on social connection.
Cavemen hunted in packs, Vikings sailed the seas on boats built to hold up to 40 men. The Romans paved roads and streets to connect one town to the next. Our history is etched with stories that link us to our past, and so very clearly, there has always been a drive within our human nature to feel connected to one another.
The power of social connection and its impact can be overlooked with the influence of technology and social media. What’s important is that we need to appreciate that although we are modern-day humans, the squishy bit between our ears has not overly changed for thousands of years.
We have not received an upgrade or a system reboot. Therefore, our psychology and biological makeup are no different from our ancestors – who without the latest gadgets or phones connected to one another – arguably in more meaningful ways.
What we’re faced with today is a clash of nature versus technology. Our psychology of feeling connected is now more and more reliant on how many likes or connections you make in a virtual world. A world that our historic brains aren’t equipped to understand properly, and processes it in the same way as it always has done.
This leaves us with a mind measuring its self-worth against likes or follows and might go some way in explaining why it is not the older generations who experience higher rates of loneliness. It is, in fact, 18-30-year-olds.
We can’t push away the advances technology has made. It has and can help to do a lot of good. However, maybe what we need to do is start appreciating that being attached to a virtual reality takes us away from feeling connected in our human to human environment. The experience of loneliness can have damaging effects on our physical and mental health. However, that being said, the potential effects should not be overshadowed by the common assumption and misconception that loneliness is a consequence of being or living alone. Loneliness and being alone in solitude do not automatically go hand-in-hand.
If you are experiencing everyday loneliness and think some support will be beneficial, many UK organisations are set-up to help. The BBC provides a useful list of contacts which may be an excellent place to start. Click here to see the list compiled as part of A Life Less Lonely series.