I'm lonely.

Me too.

It's the modern problem. Some people think that all this social media, the facebooks and the twitterz, are leaving us more lonely than ever before, but I disagree. I think that we created facebook and twitter because we were lonely.

Johann Hari convinced me of this in his book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression. As he says:

The Internet was born into a world where many people had already lost their sense of connection to each other. The collapse had already been taking place for decades by then. The web arrived offering them a kind of parody of what they were losing—Facebook friends in place of neighbors, video games in place of meaningful work, status updates in place of status in the world. The comedian Marc Maron once wrote that “every status update is a just a variation on a single request: ‘Would someone please acknowledge me?’

Some of the times I have felt the least lonely were in places of large community, like when staying at a monastery, going to festivals, or camping with friends. They have been times that I'm on a wavelength with a group of people, but sadly, these times are not as often as I wish they were.

People are just so busy, with their jobs and their work. And somehow, work never made me less lonely. I'm not sure what it was completely, but I think it has to do with the fact that I can't be honest at work. I can't be myself. My acceptance into my work group is constantly dependent on my performance and this kind of conditional acceptance doesn't seem to fix loneliness. Not for me, anyway. 

In his book, Hari talked to a neuroscientist John Cacioppo about his work on loneliness. As he summarizes:

To end loneliness, you need other people—plus something else. You also need, he explained to me, to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you. You have to be in it together—and “it” can be anything that you both think has meaning and value.

This kind of mutual dependence and mutual sharing is hard to come by nowadays. But, it can be found. In jobs, in religion, in social groups, in political campaigns. If you're lonely, the best thing you can do is try to find something important to share with someone else.

But, I wouldn't beat yourself up over it. Our capitalist society, in some sense, discourages this. It encourages us to work for the most money to buy the most things, and these values become internalized. It often feels wrong to leave a high paying job for a more meaningful one. It often feels wrong to push back against your work life to make time for your friends. It often feels wrong to take the time for your family.

And it feels like these values are coming from us, from the inside, and that's what is so insidious about them. But, why does it feel wrong? Why do we feel bad leaving work early to see our friends? On some level, perhaps, we fear getting fired, but I think it's more base than that.

I think, simply stated, it triggers guilt. We feel guilty when we leave work early, or spend time with our family. We feel like we're doing something wrong. But, why don't we feel guilty for neglecting our kids? Why don't we feel guilty for abandoning our friends? For the most part, the corporations we work at will survive without us, but our community won't. The exact place where our individual presence is needed and valued is the exact place we tend to abandon first.

So, invest. Invest in something meaningful, invest in something worthwhile, invest in something with other people. I believe, it will pay off.

Published on Monday April 9, 2018