In a cover story for the Harvard Business Review last year, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared that “the world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness.”
In America, though Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2015) seems hardest hit, surveys show that people in every social status report loneliness—students, the elderly, people in relationships, people with little daily social interaction. Heavy use of smartphones and other devices seems to increase loneliness as it lessens human contact. Research reports that more than 20 percent of people over age 60 feel intense frequent loneliness. Forty percent of 20,000 people surveyed by the health insurance company Cigna indicated that they sometimes or always felt alone. More than 40 percent said their relationships aren’t meaningful. Statistics on loneliness and its detrimental effects are so high that being lonely is now considered a public health issue.
Loneliness is not a condition of the human soul. We are not born lonely. We are not born alone. If we stop rushing around for a minute and take our attention off of our smartphones, we may feel something—unfortunately many people identify what they feel as loneliness.
You know when you have felt lonely—you could pinpoint it in time and probably thought you knew the immediate cause. What causes loneliness?
Incidents of loneliness
Sometimes loneliness is born of contrast. For example, a woman has children and when the children grow up and leave the nest, deep loneliness awakes within the mother.
Similarly, a woman might be lighthearted and happy on her own and then gets into an emotionally fulfilling relationship with a “significant other.” If, after some time, that relationship fails, she may suffer from loneliness even though she had not been lonely before.
Sometimes a woman can be lonely during a relationship when she senses that she is not understood or not connecting with the other person.
Even though we feel fine beforehand, we may go to a party where it seems that everyone else is coupled off and suddenly we feel lonely because we are not part of a couple.
Loneliness can flare up when we are in a new location with no friends, at a new job, in a new school.
But there are women who are excited about the years ahead when their children have grown up, relieved to be out of a difficult relationship, challenged by a new location or job, secure in their lifestyle even if it’s different from others’. So what causes loneliness in some and not in others that is independent of circumstances?
The source of loneliness
Does loneliness start within oneself or as a result of detaching from a relationship where one had intimacy with another and then lost it? People are lonely even when they are in groups or in relationships, so loneliness is not necessarily a function of being alone. Many of us who are alone do not experience loneliness and there are quite a few who crave solitude. Loneliness is upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful and restorative.
People in thriving happy relationships have a sense of connectedness that lasts when the loved one is absent—so they do not sink into loneliness when the other person is busily engaged in another room, or away for the day or a week or even a month. The beloved’s closeness to us on the level of feeling, the intimacy of our relationship, even when they are physically absent, exists securely within us.
So feeling lonely has its foundation in a deeper issue than in our moment-to-moment participation in personal relationships—loneliness is based on feeling incomplete, deficient.
It’s all in the mind
A 2018 article in Psychology Today suggests that loneliness may be a state of mind. The author points out that loneliness can lead to depression, which, in turn, may inhibit your ability to socialize, which will further isolate you and further increase loneliness. Lonely people often have lower levels of self-esteem and social anxiety. So if we have a way of bolstering our sense of self, we can avert the snowballing repercussions of loneliness.
The Transcendental Meditation technique has provided a way for many women and girls to find secure footing in themselves, develop their inner peace, improve relationships, increase self-esteem and reduce depression and anxiety. During the TM technique, the mind transcends the helter-skelter of life’s emotions and perceptions to deeper levels of the self, more unshakeable, expansive and free from the limitations of self-doubt, restoring our secure platform of joy, inner worth and completeness. Changing the way we feel through the direct experience of our inner being is a subtle, effective way to remedy the feelings of lack in our lives. If you feel good about yourself then others will sense it and be attracted to you.
If a woman is surrounded by many opportunities to engage with others, whether it be a warm conversation with the local grocery clerk, sharing volunteer work at a charity event, or pouring oneself into family life with spouse and children, those situations can at least for some period of time keep loneliness at bay. If you make an effort to connect with others, you may find a friend—if you don’t make the effort, you will surely not gain a friend. Maintaining a good relationship is based on the ability to give, and one can only give from what one has. Tiredness, anxiety, depression, and lack of self-worth all are obstacles to giving oneself fully, but TM effectively dissolves these obstacles. Women tend to engage in social networks more naturally, so culture your ability to give more to others and the outgoing side of your nature by practicing the TM technique.
One thing we can say for sure: if we are wakefully connected to the deepest level of our own being—an experience of total inner fullness such as experienced in TM—loneliness is not born. There is no experience of lacking within our self, so loneliness will not be able to take root. Then we find that we can fearlessly enjoy whatever relationships do come, and—if they don’t come—we will never-the-less enjoy our own company in an easy way with a sense of completeness and joy.
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.