Not more than two months ago, an important health study was published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The report is summarized as follows:
“Loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow, according to research.”
Despite everything you have heard about the dangers of being overweight, and there are several, being isolated and lonely are worse. According to the APA and the AARP’s loneliness study, approximately 42.6 million adults over age 45 in the United States are estimated to be suffering from chronic loneliness. Americans are becoming less socially connected and experiencing more loneliness.
Comparably, I did a little research concerning Facebook, the largest social media platform with over 2 billion people. I was a little surprised by what I found. More than 60% of the people who use Facebook are over 35. By more precise age breakdown, in the age group of 30 to 49, 79% use the popular Facebook social media platform, and 64% of those who are between 50 to 64. This is not to ignore all of the other platforms, but rather to use the largest social media stage as a reference.
What the statistics are showing us is that millions and millions of Americans are digitally connected, especially middle-aged and older adults, while at the same time more of us are feeling increasingly lonely and isolated. Many of us are tweeting, posting, pinning and linking-in to one another while at the same time many fine people are crying themselves to sleep.
A common complaint about LinkedIn is that it is becoming more like Facebook, while a common complaint on Facebook is that the sniping and heartlessness that is often made in response to nearly anything posted makes it quite similar to the worst aspects of Twitter. I think that oftentimes angry, mean or incensed comments found across all the social media platforms are a huge cry for attention.
I believe the comments are really trying to say, “Look at me, hear me and [in some cases] please help me.” Many of us no longer see one another or hear what people in our midst are telling us or want to acknowledge pleas for help. We are gradually losing our ability to genuinely identify with people and relate to them in a way that impacts them positively.
Initiate a Conversation
Isn’t it ironic that in this hyperconnected, overbooked and over-scheduled world that all around us are lonely people whose lives can be transformed by a kind word or the miracle of a new friendship or simply a random act of kindness?
We don’t know who the lonely people are, and that’s the biggest mystery of all. Lonely and isolated people don’t usually wear signs. So, she could be a 42-year-old high-powered marketing executive, or he could be a retired school teacher, and perhaps even an 18-year-old high school athlete.
These people might have 750 Facebook friends or 2,000 Twitter followers, but it makes no difference. Their digital connections are not giving them what they need. At the end of the day, when they are behind closed doors, driving in their cars, walking down the sidewalk or even surrounded by others, the person sitting next to us could be desperately lonely and depressed.
While I would never suggest anything inappropriate, may I propose that you perform one of the most compassionate acts of volunteering for another human being you can perform? When you encounter someone who appears to be all alone and isolated, try saying “Hello” or “How are you today?” Reach out to people who are different than you are. Don’t wait for them to converse with you. Be brave enough to start a conversation. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Comment on an article of clothing, the sunshine or something they can respond to. Maybe some will be cold-hearted and ignore you. Or it could be, just maybe, that you will save their life. In turn, my dear friends, they could also save yours.
The more we practice being humans in the real world rather than on the Internet, the more compassionate we become. Your smile can alter a life, and their smile could be the high point of your day. How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you. Every person you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something. A simple act of compassion can create an endless ripple of transformation. And remember, transformed people transform people. The perfect ripple!