We’re experiencing a loneliness epidemic.
More of us live alone now compared to ever before, and a New York Times article says the percentage of American adults who report they’re lonely has doubled since the 1980s. Now it’s sky-high at 40 per cent.
And it gets worse. A recent meta-analysis titled “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk” shows loneliness creates double the mortality risk of obesity and is actually even greater than the risk of smoking.
Suddenly it feels like many of us are facing a particularly bleak future.
Do you ever feel lonely? Or know others who do? I certainly felt devastatingly lonely when I crash-landed downtown after my divorce years ago. Suddenly I had no friends, no family, and no social structure around me. It took me time to invent a two-word philosophy to kick myself out of the gloom and doom.
What was it?
I know it’s not revolutionary but it changed my behaviour so much.
Suddenly with my new philosophy I was saying yes to anything I was asked to do. I found myself volunteering for charity functions, going to the play with six people in the audience, and saying yes to any event, literally any event, anybody asked me to attend.
Shonda Rhimes, creator and producer of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, delivered a 4-million-plus viewed TED Talk called “My year of saying yes to everything.” In it she says:
“So a while ago, I tried an experiment. For one year, I would say yes to all the things that scared me. Anything that made me nervous, took me out of my comfort zone, I forced myself to say yes to. Did I want to speak in public? No, but yes. Did I want to be on live TV? No, but yes . . . And a crazy thing happened: the very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear, made it not scary. My fear of public speaking, my social anxiety, poof, gone . . . ‘Yes’ changed my life. ‘Yes’ changed me.”
Yes puts you in situations you’re not comfortable with.
Yes helps you get out there.
Oh, and how big is the relationship between social ties and happiness?
It’s not big.
According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, who wrote popular bestseller Stumbling on Happiness:
“If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network — about your friends and family and the strength of the bonds with them.”
So say yes. Say yes! Get out there. When you sign up for things you’re scared to do, go on trips you never thought you’d go on, and sign up for activities you have no business doing, guess what happens?
You meet new people, you create new relationships, you combat loneliness head-on . . . and you become happier.
And if a Year of Yes sounds too intimidating, no problem.
Just start with a Day of Yes first.
How about today?
An earlier version of this article appeared in The Toronto Star