Late last year, the AARP Foundation published the results of an in-depth survey regarding loneliness and isolation. Not surprisingly, about one-third of U.S. adults age 45 and older report feeling lonely — and, due to an increased number of aging adults, the number is growing. Also not surprisingly, those with lower incomes were significantly more vulnerable to loneliness. For example, almost half the people who have annual incomes of less than $25,000 are lonesome. One especially disturbing statistic from the AARP survey is that social isolation among midlife and older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually.
Having meaningful relationships is one of the cornerstone of successful retirement (or any phase of life, for that matter). Well-connected people tend to be healthier, happier and more optimistic about the future. What’s more, having close relationships just makes life more interesting. But despite the benefits the ability to make and keep social connections decreases as we get older. You lose your work contacts when you retire, perhaps you don’t get around so well, and most disturbingly, your friends and family members pass away.
While many people are lonely because they don’t have the right quantity of connections, it is quite possible to have many so-called friends and still feel alone and isolated. Many of us (me included) have been in places where we are surrounded by people yet still feel lonely. As Jenova Chen put it, “We are all born alone and die alone. The loneliness is definitely part of the journey of life.” I believe the abundant data about loneliness bears this out.
It’s easy to confuse loneliness with “being alone” but these are not always the same thing. Solitude can be a great thing, provided you are experiencing this for the right reasons, not because you have no one with whom to share your life. Some people are lonely because they live in an isolated area, others because they are reclusive by nature and prefer to keep their own company. For the latter group, being in social situations can be quite painful.
Lonely people aren’t readily apparent – they don’t wear a sign that says “Talk to me, I’m lonely.” If you have doubt about whether someone you know is lonely, a quick outreach on your part can make a huge difference in someone’s life – in certain circumstances in can be a lifesaver.
And just because we have more outlets like social media so interact, doesn’t mean that the interaction is positive. Yes, you can have 200 Facebook connections and still feel disconnected. For one thing, you get to see all these people talking about their fun parties and great vacations. There is even a new acronym for this: FOMO, which stands for fear of missing out. Reading about a fulfilled life is not the same as experiencing a fulfilled life.
See this article for some interesting tips for making new connections.