Why do we feel lonely?
Sometimes you isolate yourself in a room for personal space, and it doesn’t make you feel lonely at all. On the other hand, you may sometimes feel lonely even after being surrounded by a group of friends. Right?
Loneliness is not the same as being alone, and it doesn’t have to do anything with your social skills, the number of friends you have, or the amount of money you possess. It is a universal feeling that is subjective for each individual.
Everyone feels lonely from time to time. It is something hardwired in us for thousands of years now.
Being social animals, humans can interact with each other like no other living species ever imagined. We are developing rapidly, and in the last one hundred years, we’ve discovered many ways to stay connected with our loved ones. With the help of technology, we can call someone hundreds of miles away and connect with them instantly. We have laptops, mobile phones, and tons of other gadgets to make us feel less lonely. And yet, various studies show loneliness is increasing over time among people across the globe. So, why is it happening?
To understand it, we will first have to understand how evolution works. The evolution of a species is a slow process that happens by natural selection. It happens over the generations in a way where upcoming generations by default possess the traits which helped their ancestors to survive. For example, walking on two legs, feeling restless when you’re hungry, or itchy when you have to go to pee.
For thousands of years, people used to live in small groups of 50 to 150 members. Each group was one big happy family. They all hunted together and gathered food and shelter for the whole group. For someone who was not a part of any group, survival was hard. There were wild animals, lesser food, and no one to take care of their kids if they fell sick. Being a part of the group was a sign of a secured future and offered good chances of survival.
Due to this, everybody wanted to be liked by other members of a group. Staying away from others and having no physical contact with them was risky. This developed fear in the human brain and our body came up with an idea of social fear to avoid it. Loneliness is nothing but a by-product of that fear.
Before the industrial revolution that took place in the 18th century, people used to stay at home. They worked on farms and returned to their families at night. With the rise in factories and industries, we started traveling to cities for a better lifestyle. The focus was turned from a group to an individual. As a result, joint families turned into nuclear families, and close relatives turned into extended families.
Since then, we’re becoming modern so rapidly that our bodies are not capable of coping with that speed. We are relocating for jobs, changing schools/colleges, and switching careers. Everyone is leaving a social circle behind to find a new one, which isn’t easy. We are gaining more and more social connections, but losing close connections.
We’re always busy with careers and responsibilities, and we have no time to form close bonds. Because of huge competition and desire for recognition, we now find it hard to trust others. We keep on pushing our boundaries until one day we wake up and realize that we’ve got no one by our side.
Slowly and gradually, this temporary loneliness turns into a chronic condition that may result in depression or some other serious mental health problem. Once you reach this stage, you start pushing people away. It becomes difficult to think with a rational mind and decide whom to trust. You start doubting the intentions of every person around you. A genuine help from someone feels like a favor done in an expectation of something in return. You start acting normal and happy just to avoid looking vulnerable.
Suppressing your true feelings will make things worst and you may end up doing something horrible. It may sound like an exaggeration, but it is true and more frequent than one can imagine. Almost every one of us has our biggest regrets from the time when we had no one to talk to, and we did something wrong in the heat of a moment. This can be avoided simply by helping others and accepting the help you need.
Put your ego aside and communicate with others. You don’t need any expertise or special qualification to show empathy. Just pick up your phone, and call that friend you haven’t talked to since college farewell. Text your ex and give them the closure they deserve. Pay a surprise visit to your parents living in a town. Thank your spouse more often. Send a gift to your child studying abroad. Sit with a random stranger in a coffee shop, a park, or a bar and listen to their story.
Your small gesture may cheer someone up, make someone’s day, or save a life.