Family Talk: Is family a cause or cure for loneliness?
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” — Mother Teresa
Not long ago, I heard a speaker talk about loneliness. He said there was an epidemic of it in America. His pronouncement took me by surprise, so I decided to do a little research, and, sure enough, there is a bona fide contagion of this hidden disease.
Business Insider magazine states loneliness “has such a significant effect on mortality rates that loneliness could be considered a public health threat that's more harmful than obesity and about as bad as smoking."
In May, Cigna Insurance released the results of a study on loneliness. Cigna said it wanted “to better understand the state of loneliness in America and “focus the national conversation on the epidemic.” Here's some of what Cigna found:
• 47 percent of those surveyed reported feeling “left out.”
• Nearly half (43 percent) feel their relationships are not meaningful.
• Only 18 percent have someone they can talk to.
• Young people, the unemployed and single parents are the most lonely.
Surprisingly, feelings of loneliness decrease as we age, with the Greatest Generation (ages 72 and older) reporting less loneliness than any other age group.
Individuals who described their family life as "poor" or "fair" also rated high on loneliness. The study stated:
Spending time with family also plays an important role in alleviating one's feelings of loneliness ... Those surveyed who say they spend more time than desired with their family and those who spend less time than desired are on par with one another when it comes to experiencing feelings of loneliness, while those who say they spend just the right amount of time with family are less likely to have such feelings.
What?! Spending too much time and too little time with family are both bad? Then how do we find that “sweet spot” that Goldilocks was looking for: The “just right” amount of family time. Here are three suggestions:
1. Be intentional about spending time with family. If you approach family time haphazardly, you're more likely to spend either too much or too little time and risk falling into the loneliness tank. Take time over the weekend to plan the week ahead, budgeting in some — but not too much — family time.
2. Don't play the “wait until” game with your family. Avoid saying things like, “Wait until this big project is over — then we'll spend time together,” or “Wait until we have enough money for a big family vacation, then we'll have fun!"
3. Don't overload your schedule with nonfamily commitments. Limit the number of sports teams your kids play on. If you're a parent or spouse, minimize the external commitments you make. Build “breathing time” into your family life.
It's odd that too much or too little family time both result in loneliness. To keep that black dog away, we must strive to spend the “just right” amount of time with those we love.
Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.