Loneliness is caused by a lack of meaningful social connection.
Many people experience loneliness even though they have a partner, friends, colleagues and family members that they see on a regular basis. People feel lonely because they consistently feel unfulfilled by their existing relationships.
Relationships are a primary source of meaning. In the past, people would spend much of their time with family, friends and community members. They worked together on meaningful tasks — they directly provided value to each other’s lives — they deeply understood each other.
However, in our modern times, we are frequently separated from our loved ones, and when we are actually together, we often don’t do anything that is meaningful — we often don’t directly help, support or cooperate with each other on anything important. And on top of this, we often don’t have common interests, aspirations and values.
These situations can create a sense of disconnection and disharmony. We sense the superficiality. And we long for deeper connectedness.
You overcome loneliness by developing meaningful relationships, and also by implementing ways that make you feel good and strong when you are alone.
Rejuvenate your existing relationships
Make an effort to understand each other’s interests and values, and then find ways to experience these together.
Let’s say, your friend is really into martial arts, but you don’t know anything about it. So, you could go to some classes together. You could go on a vacation that is themed around the interest of martial arts. You could just watch some martial arts movies together. The point is to become more interested in their interests, and that allows you to more deeply connect.
It’s not like you have to become a black belt, it’s just about being able to relate to their interests. Because if you can’t have even a basic conversation with the close people in your life about what they’re really interested in and passionate about, then they are going to feel somewhat stifled and disconnected from you.
The same thing goes for a person’s values. For example, if your friend really values a certain philosophy, but you know nothing about it, then they are going to feel a bit restricted when communicating with you. So, ask them about it. Read a book about it. Discuss it with your friend. And even if you don’t resonate with this philosophy, you now understand more about your friend’s values. And I’m sure they will appreciate that, and it will bring you closer.
You can also rejuvenate your friendships by working together on something. For example, you might help each other with your gardening, you might create an artwork together, do some home improvements, or write a song together. Look for ways you can share your knowledge and skills, and be creative together. Work towards meaningful goals with each other. And be sure to have some light-hearted fun — don’t take things too seriously.
Another way is to try new experiences together. Talk about your interests and values, and notice where there are some similarities. And then make some arrangements. Take a cooking class, do a bungee jump, go away somewhere you’ve never been that you’ve both wanted to visit. Experience novelty together. Do things together, learn together, travel places together. My article How To Revitalize Your Relationship is mostly aimed at couples, but much of it can also be applied to friendships.
Good friendships revolve around mutual trust, acceptance and compassion. They develop via a process of empathic connection, and they thrive when you both feel you can be completely authentic. So, you don’t have to pretend to be someone or play some kind of role. You feel comfortable with each other — you understand each other. You can talk about intimate subjects and be intimate with each other. You can rely on each other for honest answers, for sound advice, and for sincere support.
Grudges and resentments are what destroy friendships. And also, being overly demanding and controlling. You can patch things up by making changes, and by letting go of grievances, but there has to be reciprocity. If you don’t feel respected and valued by a friend, then you may end up feeling lonely when you’re with them. And if nothing changes, it might be best to let the friendship simmer out, and to look for new connections.
It is also worth keeping in mind that as you change in life, your interests and values will change. And it is natural during times of personal transition to gravitate towards new connections — towards people who can appreciate the changes you are making — people who you can resonate with through mutual understanding.
Finding new connections
If you would like some new friends, you have to get into situations where you’re engaging with people via some kind of joint activity or shared experience. This allows you time to bond and to open up with each other.
The workplace can be a good venue to make friends because you’re in the same boat. You’ve got a big thing in common that you can both relate to and understand. And this common ground can serve as a foundation you can build upon. And then you might discover further aspects of life you can relate to and explore together.
If there’s no one you feel a connection with at work, then look at the other venues in your life. And maybe it will be good to expand your horizons. Look at your interests, look at your values, and search for groups to join, classes to go to, travel experiences, sports clubs. Maybe even set something up yourself.
The easiest way to make new friends is through the common bond that is formed by doing things together — by going through experiences together. And this is especially true when you are cooperating and collaborating in ways that bring you joy or a sense of meaning.
Some people you’ll click with straight away, and others you won’t. There’s no big rush. But you do have to take the lead at times because people are often very busy, or they may be shy, or they may think you wouldn’t be interested in spending time with them.
So, if you like someone — if you feel a connection with them — then take the initiative and contact them to make arrangements. Be honest with people. Express that you like them and that you’d like to hang out more often — let people know you are interested in them.
Go with what flows, but don’t try to force things. Some people won’t be interested in hanging out with you, and that’s okay. Try not to take it personally. Feel yourself at ease about whether or not people like you. And break free of any irrational judgements you might have about people letting you down. Give people a chance. Trust.
We are social creatures, and it’s good to meet and hang out with people from different backgrounds. People who challenge us in positive ways. People who offer us new knowledge, different perspectives and opportunities. Interpersonal relationships are the number one way we learn and evolve. Every person you meet can teach you something. But it’s good to remember that not everyone we feel a connection with is necessarily going to become a lifelong friend.
Even some small talk with people you meet in day to day life can pull you out of loneliness. The waitress, the barman, the cashier, the guy in the queue — make some conversation with people. Even a brief chat about the weather can make you both feel happier.
Serving others in some way can provide meaningful connection. So, you could consider volunteering, or just be more willing to offer your help to friends and family. But also, don’t forget to ask people for help. For instance, instead of looking up a solution on a search engine about an issue you have — think about who might know the answer in your social network. Maybe your cousin will know the answer, perhaps your neighbour might know. Give people the opportunity to help you, and this can often lead to meaningful connections.
Trust your instincts. You might be standing at a bus stop and sense some kind of mysterious intrigue with someone there. So, you spark up a conversation, and forty years of friendship later, you still marvel about that curious meeting at the bus stop. There are mystical forces at work that do sometimes pull people together. Keep your heart open to the potential.
Make peace with aloneness
You resolve loneliness, not just by developing meaningful connections with other people, but also by developing a meaningful connection with yourself.
If you feel insecure, bored, or out of control when you’re alone, then you should try to identify ways to counter these feelings.
Look for ways to act that enhance your life. Ways in which you increase your health and happiness. And then, when you’re alone, focus on these ways.
- Focus on your wellbeing. This might be simply taking care of yourself by preparing nutritious food, doing some exercise, or practising meditation.
- Focus on your personal goals and aspirations. This might be organising your living space, researching an idea you had, or working on a personal project.
- Focus on your social life. This might mean organising an activity with a friend, emailing an old colleague you’ve been thinking about, or arranging to go on a trip where there are bound to be like-minded people you’ll connect with.
- Focus on what you are grateful for. This might involve writing in a journal about the people and experiences you appreciate and cherish in your life.
By being proactive during times when you’re alone, you’ll feel more confident, and you’ll feel more content with your own company.
Taking purposeful time alone by entering into solitude can be very healing and positively transformative. Embracing solitude can in certain ways actually help you to overcome loneliness.