I have two potentially uncomfortable questions for you:
1. Are you lonely?
2. Did this feeling of loneliness begin with the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you answered “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, you are not alone.
Researchers have long known that loneliness is growing in society, particularly among the millennial generation, which I am certainly a member of. In fact, those of us between 24-35 years of age have been deemed “the loneliness generation” according to statistics from the United States and around the world.
Loneliness isn’t the only unfortunate trend that was already increasing among all segments of society prior to the pandemic.
As we came roaring into the 2020s, rates of mental illness, chronic illness, addictions, burnout, and deaths from despair and suicide have been growing.
You may think that grouping loneliness with these more dire conditions seems unreasonable, but loneliness is detrimental for us both mentally and physically—never mind the fact that it is painful.
Despite this stark reality, I wonder how many of us are “diagnosed” with loneliness as a cause or symptom of our distress when we go for doctor’s checkups.
The truth is that loneliness can manifest as depression or even inflammation, but this does not often get addressed within our current Western model of healthcare.
This is changing. Doctors in Britain have begun prescribing social interactions for their patients, and my hope is that this wonderful trend spreads as we continue to talk openly and address these massive issues facing us in our current global society.
But it still doesn’t get to the root issue: Why are we so damn lonely?
Well, experts of different fields have their own explanations for why us millennials are the “loneliness and burnout generation.” These causes are attributed to various systemic issues facing society, from economics to technology.
They analyze statistics and come up with various findings, which all contain elements of truth and reveal part of the picture. However, these academic findings are largely based in an old paradigm where the mind and body are separated, and spirit has been surgically removed from the conversation.
Loneliness is a manifestation of our spiritual crisis.
What seems to be at the heart of the loneliness and mental health crisis, in my opinion, is a crisis of the spirit, which has manifested in a number of societal and personal ills.
What I mean by spirituality is the quest for meaning beyond our material desires. The spiritual crisis stems from the fact that for the last few hundred years, for various reasons, we have lost communities of like-minded individuals supporting one another and working together to grapple with both survival and the big and unanswerable questions of life:
Who am I?
What do I value?
What is this whole life thing?
What does it all mean, and how do I live a life of meaning?
In the vacuum of dedicated spiritual communities, our economic systems filled the void to become the basis for our ethics, values, and purpose in life. When the pursuit of happiness through economic means is the only basis for what it means to live a good life, we pursue a life full of promise, which always feels somewhat empty.
In a world where God is dead, our insatiable desire to consume has crept in to become the central goal of our lives. So, here we are. A generation that is well aware that money does not buy happiness, but still living within an old paradigm, which preaches the gospel of consumerism:
Buy more, do more, be better, be more attractive, be younger, be fitter, be healthier, buy a car, buy a nicer car, be more productive, buy more, go on more vacations, look better, be happier, buy more, go out more, do more, look better, smile more for more pictures, get more plastic surgery, do more crunches, post more, be smarter, be happier, buy a house, buy a bigger house, get more followers, consume more, scroll more, buy more.
This is the invisible ethos of our culture, and we have spent our childhood, teenage years, and young adulthood absorbing the message loud and clear.
What does this have to do with loneliness?
Well, the result of living by the values of serving our economic system is that if I need more, then I can justify taking from you.
Despite what previous generations believed, we know that the world does not have infinite resources. In a world where resources are quickly dwindling, we have been taught that we must look out only for ourselves in order to survive.
This scarcity and survival mentality exists throughout every modern society. If anything, it actually becomes more acute in communities that are higher in socioeconomic status. The more you have, the more you feel you need—at the expense of your neighbours.
We all want to do incredible things and have our parents and community feel proud of our achievements. Many of our grandparents and parents worked incredibly hard to provide us with opportunities, and there may be a sense of guilt and obligation to prove our sense of worth to ourselves and others.
But in pursuit of these material or status-driven goals (often in the absence of other goals), we begin to see others as either superior or inferior to us, based on whatever factors we use to determine success. We are constantly judging others and assume they are judging us too.
In this hypercompetitive and superficial atmosphere, we are completely alone.
So we work hard to prove our worth. But many of us don’t feel worthy at all, and these feelings of unworthiness manifest in deep loneliness and isolation.
We want to belong and feel connected, so we chase after the things that we believe will give us a sense of connection and meaning: get the job, get the house, get the pension—everything we have been taught to desire.
We post about our beautiful lives on social media in order to prove to others that we are “making it.” We are trying to prove to others that we belong, but deep down, we aren’t so sure and always feel that we are falling short. This is a lonely place to find ourselves.
Herein lies the paradox: we could be around people all day, whether colleagues, family, or friends, and yet still feel completely alone. It’s as though we are simply wearing one mask after another, not knowing who we truly are behind the performance of these various roles we play.
Where is a place we can go to speak truthfully, discuss the big questions of life, and understand ourselves and our values? Where can we truly be honest with ourselves and others without judgement? Without these spaces, we tend to experience this pervasive sense of loneliness that continues to gnaw at our souls.
Despite the grim picture I have just painted, I am optimistic about the future of my generation and generations to come.
When we face a crisis (hello 2020!), we are forced to face the fact that the old paradigm is simply not working anymore. The new paradigm arising is one which includes the spiritual dimension, and values each member of the human collective as inherently worthy—simply as they are.
Like most ills of the 21st century, loneliness cannot be alleviated through a prescription. We treat loneliness through authentic connection, and we can only truly connect with others when we have established a loving relationship with ourselves.
This is the true aim of all the work that I do as a holistic healer.
Let’s create this space together.