Once in a while I will come across a book which will have a significant impact on how I view the world. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John Cacioppo and William Patrick is one such book.
My evolutionary biologist brother-in-law, who specializes in social insects, has long since convinced me of the social nature of human beings, so our need for one another comes as no surprise. The eye opening aspect of this book is the physiology of loneliness.
Loneliness isn’t just a mental state, something we need to power through or try to convince ourselves we are not feeling – it induces a physiological response. That response is so strong that over time the increase in stress hormones (among other things) in our body makes loneliness as high a risk factor for premature death as obesity! Those who scored high on a loneliness scale in a particular year of a longitudinal study were shown to be significantly more likely to suffer from depression two years later!
Of far greater concern though, is the wealth of evidence the authors provide for the theory that loneliness impairs the executive function of the brain. When someone is lonely they are genuinely less able to make good decisions. They are less able to see good things as being positive. And so loneliness rapidly becomes a negative feedback loop which results in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Obviously, the sooner the feedback loop is disrupted by genuine connection the better.
I believe this is an very important message for our world today. There is growing evidence of the increase in alienation from one another (the fear of migrants is just a topical example). Pause for a moment – is there someone who have come across in the last few days who might be lonely? Is it possible to reach out to them?
Perhaps you are the one who is feeling lonely at the moment – who can you reach out to to break the cycle currently overriding your good judgement?