Monday, October 25, 2010

Social Connectedness vs. Solitude


I just finished reading The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century by husband and wife Professors of Psychiatry, Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz. According to a study they cite, 25% of us now live alone. That's up from 7% in the 1940's and represents the largest number of people living alone in the U.S. ever. Even those of us who don't live alone spend less time with family, friends, and neighbors than in the past. The resulting loneliness, say the authors is "the inevitable by-product of our frenetic contemporary lifestyles." (Though we don't call it loneliness because of the "loser" stigma attached to the word. Instead we talk about "feeling depressed.")

Connections with others--face-to-face connections--not just the technological variety, have been proven to be essential to our mental and physical health, yet we often wall ourselves off, treating "busyness as a virtue" and stepping back from one another. As a friend of the authors commented: "Being neighborly used to mean visiting people. Now being nice to your neighbors means not bothering them."

I value my solitude when I'm writing (though I do know writers who like to work in public places, like cafes), but spending time with family, friends, and neighbors is something I'd do more of...if I wasn't afraid of bothering them. Hmm....

3 comments:

Emily said...

For me, "busy-ness" is important, but spending time with my boyfriend and friends (and family when I am able to!) is an essential part of being busy. I think I made a conscious decision in my first or second year of college to stop putting off social things because I desperately "need" to do something else; study, clean house, whatever. Those things are important, but they will never be more important or meaningful or make you feel better than spending face-to-face time with people you like, and therefore, you must prioritize social time just as much--if not more--than work and study. As long as I'm doing as well as I think I should be at school, work, etc., I think it's a good guideline to follow.

Jolene Hueber said...

I agree with that.... I feel energized when I am around other people... but at the same time... too much time with out people makes me feel drained and I want my solitude again. It is all about balance.

Suzanne Williams said...

Oh, Emily, how did you get to be so wise? :-)

Jolene: I agree. Balance is key.