You can have friends and family and still feel deprived of community. John Cacioppo, who died last year, pioneered the field of social neuroscience and dedicated more than two decades to studying loneliness. He explained how misunderstood it could be—associated with social isolation, depression, introversion, and poor social skills, when in fact it does not discriminate by income or class, by ethnicity or gender. It is everywhere. Indeed, anyone living in a big city knows this is true: you can have friends and feel lonely.
The question is, are you experiencing social poverty, inadequate social support? The problem can also cut across cultures. People crave a sense of belonging. And yet we focus on how to look better, exercise efficiently, and work effectively, often neglecting to take the necessary steps to build and sustain social ties. Choices have consequences. I pitied them: the commute, the strip malls, the numbing sameness of it all.
My brother, then an architect for a big-name firm, saw what I was seeing. He extolled the virtues of space, the yard where the kids could play, the trampoline they could jump on, the strollers that could be left outside.
People stopped by to chat or drop off their kids. One shit-boring birthday party at a time, he celebrated the seeming unexceptionality of it all. But for the most part, the whole thing held zero appeal to me. My husband and I were raising our kids in New York City. We were happy; building our busy lives, welcoming one and then two kids, trying to form the ties that bind. But on those walks on the High Line, surrounded by early-morning runners, polished traders and bankers, consultants, actors and fashionistas, I craved mediocrity.
Where were those too tired to brush their hair, who felt they were failing on all fronts? All I could see was people striving to improve. I am sure many wanted to move beyond their bubbles; many probably did. But mostly, it seemed everyone was busy with being a player in high-stakes game. How could I be lonely? What does help lonely people is to educate them about how our brains can turn in on ourselves, causing us to retreat into self-preservation mode and be on high alert for social threats.
This naturally makes people engage less and feel even more lonely, creating a vicious cycle. He found that learning how to connect required rebuilding certain physical muscles, including learning or re-learning social cues, including tone of voice, eye contact, and posture. This can feel hard. It requires being vulnerable at a moment when one feels uniquely unsuited to do that. This idea is backed up by research from Julia M.rotoconclittmor.cf
Four Girls: A Lot of Choices
Rohrer, a PdD candidate at the Max Plank Institute who studied a large group of Germans who said they were committed to trying to become happier. The twist was that some pursued self-improvement goals such as getting a new job or making more money, while others tried spending more time with friends and family. A year later, she found those who focused on connecting more with others were happier than those who pursued self-improvement.
The thing that makes us happiest in life is other people. And yet other people are often the first thing to fall off our list of priorities. He had had 30 pounds of tumors and, in an effort to stop the relentless march of cancer, doctors amputated his leg at the hip, where the tumors were concentrated. He was opposed to this surgery. At moments convinced he would recover and be able to run, his doctor finally told him he could not survive if he did not literally cut out the cancer.
I assured him it would be fine though I was not at all sure it would be. How had it come to this? Later, I called him to update him on state of the art prosthetics. I could hear the defeat in his voice. I flew to New York for the surgery. When I arrived, he was in intensive care and in a lot of pain. When the nurses changed his dressing he would cry for them to stop. This from a man who never admitted pain before, a once-bear of a human who could carry two pound kids down a beach on a blazing hot day.
He was proud, and would ask me to leave when they came to tend to the wounds. I remember sitting right outside his door, resting my head on a desk, winded by the sight of him: no leg, so many tubes and machines. One of his nurses squatted by me, took my hand, looked at me.
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Late one night, around 10 pm, a friend came by. She brought me a meal. We talked about her startup. Eventually it was.
Life Choices: Your Decision Making Process
Not normal, but it was okay. I felt alone, vulnerable, and angry. I was furious at half my friends for failing to grasp the hell we were living through.
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But through the fog of grief, and over time, I took what I learned from my brother and started to build what I needed. When I returned to London after his funeral, I leaned on one friend. I retreated into my family. I took up piano, and in my piano teacher, I found a gentle soul whose priorities seemed so clear that I could start to remake my own. The power of quiet. The reward of learning. The catharsis of music and solitude.
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