Despite the fact that we are more connected than ever loneliness is still a problem in our society. Indeed, it’s such a problem that people are self-reporting that they are lonelier today than decades ago. What can we do about it? We can teach people how to better deal with feelings of loneliness in schools so when they become adults they will know how to grabble with it.
But Holt-Lunstad believes that loneliness-prevention education should not be limited to teaching students how to support others. She also believes that kids should learn early in life how to reframe their own negative responses to social situations. “We’ve all had a situation where you text someone and they don’t respond right away,” she says. “Instead of assuming they’re snubbing you, they’re blowing you off, all of these kinds of negative things that could in turn lead you to respond with nasty comments or become irritated, which is not going to elicit the sort of friendly response you want,” she says, “reframe it as, ‘Perhaps they’re driving.’ ‘Perhaps they’re in a meeting.’ If you’re interpreting others’ social signals as negative, how you behave towards them is more likely to mirror that.” The existing strategies for helping people repackage their thoughts in a more positive way could be easily adapted for a classroom setting.
Loneliness is something that everybody experiences in their life and it turns out it could be a good thing. By feeling lonely your body is telling you that you need to change: you ought to go hang out with friends.
Humans are social animals and our bodies have evolved to ensure that we stay in groups. Their are many benefits to surrounding yourself with friends and it looks like that deep inside our physical bodies know this too. So the next time you feel lonely just think about how cool it is that it’s an evolved trait! Then go chill with some friends.
In recent years, scientists have sharpened their focus on loneliness, concluding it does have a purpose, does have redeeming features. They are not talking like Thoreau about the benefits of solitude on our creative minds and spirits. They are talking like Darwin about loneliness driving change, an evolutionary correction.
“Loneliness is a warning system,” says Louise Hawkley a psychologist at the University of Chicago. It is our body telling us we’re breaking from the social bonds that nourished us as a species. “We’re failing to satisfy our fundamental drive to connect with other humans,” Hawkley says. Feeling isolated switches our bodies into self-preservation mode. “What happens with people who are lonely for a long time is their threat-defense programs get activated,” says Steve Cole, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The body interprets loneliness as threatening.”