We may have hundreds, even thousands, of friends on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, but evidence is mounting those connections aren’t the ones providing us the social balm we need.
Human connection and contact.
From 1985 to 2009, the average American’s social network, as defined by the number of confidants people feel they have, has declined by more than a third.
People crave a sense of belonging. 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.
In an age where appearance is everything, it makes sense more people are turning to social media for their connections.
It’s important to know, are you experiencing social poverty or inadequate social support?
Because the answer could be shortening your life.
According to research published in 2010, people who have weaker social ties have a 50 percent increased likelihood of dying early than those with stronger ones. Being disconnected, it showed posed danger comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and was more predictive of early death than the effects of air pollution or physical inactivity.
Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” When we isolate ourselves and get the majority of our human connection in an online setting, we begin to wither away. A plant needs sunlight, food, and water to survive and thrive.
So do we.
Like plants, we thrive in an environment where we’re connected, have conversations, and touch.
I’m notorious for having most of my friends online. Sure, I’ve been fortunate to meet some of them in real life, but for the most part, they live in my phone or on my computer.
They’re no less my friends, confidants, sisters/brothers than anyone I know close by, in fact, some of them I’m even closer to.
But we still need people we can call who are close enough to sit with us, hold our hand, and have a coffee while they listen.
Often, it’s those of us surrounded by others who feel the loneliest. We’ve forgotten how to connect. When asked what we need to do in order to be happier, most people respond with self-improvement ideas.
Though improving one’s self is never a bad idea, whether we want to acknowledge it, the thing that makes us happiest in life are other people. Yet, other people are often the thing that falls off our list of priorities first.
We need community to be strong and well. Community can be as simple as having a small group of people who bring over a casserole when you’re not feeling well, someone who takes care of your kids when you’re not able.
The most important thing community is, is whoever you need them to be in your darkest hour. If the worst thing happens, they’re the people who will be there for your family, to help them pick up the pieces, to move them forward through life.
Warren Buffet famously said, “Do the people you care about love you back?”
Whether near or far, our community loves us back, and that’s the least lonely feeling of all.