Today, a prominent issue in the mental health field is the pervasive feeling of loneliness that is becoming the norm in the lives of many. Research has shown that chronic isolation and loneliness can lead to a multitude of health problems, including cognitive deficits in learning and memory. It seems that the integrity of our physical and mental well-being is highly correlated with our ability to connect and relate to others socially.
The source of this problem may lay in our cultural addiction to social media that is especially prevalent in the millennial generation. The custom in our modern social gatherings is to plug away on smartphones, hardly interacting in the present moment. It may be this need to escape, change, or otherwise enhance “normal” reality online that is part of our societal problem. “Instagraming” everything from what you had for lunch, to yet another picture of ones feet on a beach, may actually be leading to a society that is less present and instead lives vicariously through social media tools.
The rush of pleasure from attaining new followers on Twitter and “likes” on Facebook has become a widespread addiction, one that has the today’s youth caught up in an ever-sustaining frenzy to maintain the perfect online profile. This false belief that online popularity will help us to feel more significant leads to seeking more interaction online, when each brief moment of validation passes. Like any addiction, these outlets of pleasure are short-lived and never truly satisfying. The inherent problem lies in the belief that digital-life can replace real-life. Because of this generational paradigm a culture of isolated individuals has emerged.
However, there is hope that this widespread epidemic of loneliness may retract from the mainstream, if we are willing to change habitually. What hinders our growth and sustains our social isolation is the belief that there is something inherently wrong with us. Instead we should recognize that our maladaptive habits are the issue. For change to occur, we must look at how our loneliness and isolation are in our minds and behavior.
As influential as social media is on our well-being, improving life-satisfaction multi-dimensionally ultimately lies in proactive change. When at social gatherings, put your cellphone away or on silent. Enjoy the time with the people who are actually in your presence. If you feel you lack connection, try joining a social group or get involved in a cause that is meaningful to you. If you have a particular passion or skill, there are plenty of people out there who share your same interests.
The Internet can actually be a useful tool to find people who you can connect and share experiences with offline. You might find that it is not all that difficult to create or find a social group if you use your digital resources appropriately. Having said this, studies have shown it is the quality, not the quantity, of relationships that leads to higher levels of satisfaction and well-being, so be mindful and grateful for those who you do have in your life and take time to be with them.
Taking positive steps to improve your social life is as important to your health as eating well and exercising. Get off your smartphone, your computer, and turn off the TV. You may not have the most active Tumblr, or the most friends on Facebook, but ironically you most likely will feel far less alone and more connected then ever before.
This societal shift can start with you. It may be difficult and uncomfortable at first, but as author Neal Donald Walsch once said, “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
-Mark Renchner-Kelly, WFC