During the pandemic I read an interesting book by the former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy called Together. He went on a listening tour of America in a quest to better understand America’s physical and mental health. What he found surprised even him — many Americans suffer from an epidemic of loneliness. They lack close personal relationships, friends or community. This is important because social connections are vital to our mental health and sense of well-being.

Now we don’t always know if a person struggles with loneliness as it can be hidden. This condition that impacts a third of Americans over the age of 45 can manifest itself with irritability, anger, fatigue and even depression. There is a stigma associated with loneliness. Who wants to admit they are lonely? It may seem like you are not likable or lovable. Of course, that isn’t true, but the feeling of shame can drive those thoughts.

To understand loneliness means to understand yourself. You must believe you are a person of worth no matter your circumstances. Faith in God reinforces that position since God declares we are all made in His Image and loved. His love is unconditional and gives confidence that grounds us.

This need for connection is hard-wired into us. In a culture that continues to reinforce individualism, relationships become vitally important. Specifically, Dr. Murthy believes we need three levels of connection:

  1. An intimate partner with whom we share life. Doing life alone can raise stress. And the best relationships are those that are beneficial and reciprocal.
  2. A circle of friends. There is safety in numbers which keeps our stress lower. In fact, a Harvard study showed that your inner circle of friends is a better predictor of well-being and happiness than IQ, wealth or social class.
  3. A community to which we belong. Community helps us derive meaning and values by sharing a common identity with others. This is why churches and religious communities are so important. Christ himself modeled the value of community. After His ascension, His followers extended their community and formed the church. Throughout the years, my church community has been a lifeline for our family, especially during difficulty times.

So as you evaluate those parts of your life related to connection, you may decide to spend more time developing one or more of the areas above. Even five minutes of quality communication with someone can make a difference. And be assured, it is the quality, not quantity that matters. And did you know, serving other people is an antidote to loneliness?  Acts of service shift the focus off us and onto others, lifting our mood and giving meaning to our life.

The bottom line is to put people first! Expand your circle of friends and create community where you can. Your well-being depends on it.

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