Our Friends Are Making Us Lonely

Did you know that loneliness can kill you? Actually, it’s even more dangerous to your health than obesity – loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Maybe think about that the next time you want to skip out on plans with friends to stay home with your couch and Netflix.

If you haven’t yet heard, the “Loneliness Epidemic” is on the rise – and the global health community is worried. In May of last year, global health service company Cigna released a research study revealing that nearly half of Americans sometimes or always feel alone.

Perhaps the most startling finding of this study is that social media use had no significant impact on loneliness. Instead, factors such as physical health, life balance, and most significantly meaningful in-person interactions had the greatest impact on loneliness.

Social media alone isn’t a determining factor in loneliness, but living in the digital age and the era of technology affects us all. If in-person interactions are so critical in preventing loneliness, how do we expect to not be lonely in a world that avoids in-person interactions at all costs? We don’t ring our friends’ doorbells – we text them. We don’t talk to the friends we’re with – we text our other friends. Only 53% of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions on a daily basis.

American adults spend more than 11 hours per day consuming media. We live in a world where the social unacceptability of being on your phone 24/7 is becoming socially acceptable. And there lies the root of the loneliness problem, and the degradation of our meaningful in-person interactions: Is there anything lonelier than sitting across from someone who would rather be staring at their phone screen than at you?

Digital wellness is currently trending, with companies like Apple and Google focusing on minimalist “light” phones and digital wellness features. There’s a reason for that – screen time is addictive and has a direct, negative impact on our well-being. But what effect do our technology habits have on our family? On our friends? Perhaps the real question isn’t whether or not your phone is hurting you, but is it hurting the people you love?

A 2017 Barna Group study revealed the average adult has five close friends. Yet according to Cigna, over half of Americans sometimes or always feel that no one knows them well. Why do we feel that no one knows us? Maybe it’s not that no one knows us – it’s that no one knows the “real” us.

We’ve never been more image focused. We curate everything about our lives. Regardless of whether or not you use social media, you’re affected by this cultural shift. You can’t avoid it – social media interactions inevitably influence our interpersonal relationships. Even if you stop following Judy on social media, chances are you’ll still hear about her latest perfect Instagram travel post. And even if you never touch social media, your friends are on it and they’re talking about it. You can’t escape being affected by our image-obsessed culture.

Our society has created a disconnect between our real lives and the ones we tell each other exist. Everything is fabricated, and no one knows who we really are. When people ask how we’re doing, we lie and tell them that we’re fine. And we feel alone.

The reason we’re lonely in America isn’t that we lack interaction – it’s that we lack meaningful interaction. Digital wellness is important, but that in itself is not the answer. We do need to be present with the people we love, and we do need to put down our phones. But more importantly, we need to be real with each other. We need to live more transparently. We need to be honest. Because everyone deserves to feel known, and no one deserves to feel alone.

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