6 Tips for Battling Loneliness.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: six tips for battling loneliness.

The more I’ve learned about happiness, the more I’ve come to believe that loneliness is a terrible, common, and important obstacle to consider.

A while back, after reading John Cacioppo’s fascinating book Loneliness, I posted Some counter-intuitive facts about loneliness, and several people responded by asking, “Okay, but what do I do about it? What steps can I take to feel less lonely?”

I recently finished another fascinating book, Lonely — a memoir by Emily White, about her own experiences and research into loneliness. White doesn’t attempt to give specific advice about how to combat loneliness, but from her book, I gleaned these strategies:

1. Remember that although the distinction can be difficult to draw, loneliness and solitude are different. White observes, “It’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.” Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.

2. Nurturing others — raising children, teaching, caring for animals — helps to alleviate loneliness.

3. Keep in mind that to avoid loneliness, many people need both a social circle and an intimate attachment. Having one of these elements may still leave you feeling lonely.

4. Work hard to get your sleep. One of the most common indicators of loneliness is broken sleep — taking a long time to fall asleep, waking frequently, and feeling sleepy during the day. Sleep deprivation, under any circumstances, brings down people’s moods, makes them more likely to get sick, and dampens their energy, so it’s important to tackle this issue. (Here are some tips on getting good sleep.)

5. Try to figure out what’s missing from your life. White observes that making lots of plans with friends didn’t alleviate her loneliness. “What I wanted,” she writes, “was the quiet presence of another person.” She longed to have someone else just hanging around the house with her. The more clearly you see what’s lacking, the more clearly you’ll see possible solutions.

6. Take steps to connect with other people (to state the obvious). Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change. The pain of loneliness can prod you to connect with other people. Unfortunately, loneliness itself can make people feel more negative, critical, and judgmental. If you recognize that your loneliness may be affecting you in that way, you can take steps to counter it.

Most people have suffered from loneliness at some point. Have you found any good strategies for making yourself less lonely? What worked — or didn’t work?

* My friend Stuart Vance just started a very cool site where he posts his iPhone art: ArrghPtoo!

* If you’d like a free, personalized bookplate for your copy of the print book of The Happiness Project, or if you read an e-book, audiobook, or library book and you’d like a free, personalized signature card (with the Paradoxes of Happiness on the back), email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. Ask for either, or both; feel free to ask for as many as you’d like; I mail them anywhere in the world. But be sure to include your mailing address!

If you’ve already written to me but haven’t received your signature card yet — I’m sorry. I’ve had many more requests than I expected, and ran out almost immediately. The new ones should arrive very soon, and then I’ll send them out as quickly as possible.

  • http://lookingtobusiness.com Daniel Wood

    I have gone through a period of loneliness. I have always liked getting some solitude at times but all of a sudden I felt blocked off from the world.

    This was very different and as you say, draining.
    When I realized this I started contacting people, I first invited over some friends and spent the evening with them.

    The next day I spoke 2 hours on the phone with different friends.

    After that I felt much better but the lesson was to always remember to connect with other people. Humans are social beings, even if we like being alone at times.

  • http://www.deliberateblog.com Melody Fletcher

    When I first started working from home, it was wonderful. No
    distractions, my own schedule, etc… but I hadn’t expected to miss the social
    aspect of the office so much. My weekends hadn’t really been impacted but I
    realized that I was actually lonely during the day. My strategy was to actively
    schedule lunches with friends. I don’t have to do that every day, but once or
    twice a week is nice. It helps me to catch up on gossip and have a few laughs.
    It’s so true that you can feel lonely in one part of your life, while not in
    another… Great post!

    Hugs,

    Melody
     

    • gretchenrubin

      This is an issue for me, too. I need a lot of solitude but also a lot of
      society, and as a writer, I have to make sure to create opportunities for
      the latter. If I don’t plan for it, I don’t always get it, so really need to
      think about building it into my life.

  • http://www.deliberateblog.com Melody Fletcher

    When I first started working from home, it was wonderful. No
    distractions, my own schedule, etc… but I hadn’t expected to miss the social
    aspect of the office so much. My weekends hadn’t really been impacted but I
    realized that I was actually lonely during the day. My strategy was to actively
    schedule lunches with friends. I don’t have to do that every day, but once or
    twice a week is nice. It helps me to catch up on gossip and have a few laughs.
    It’s so true that you can feel lonely in one part of your life, while not in
    another… Great post!

    Hugs,

    Melody
     

  • Clare

     These suggestions to combat loneliness do not take into account the circumstances of those who are perhaps housebound by illness. Skype is certainly a life saver for staying in touch with loved ones and for the company it provides and I schedule friends to visit twice a week which keeps me sane (whilst also at times making me feel like a bit of a burden). But I really do not know how others with less social support can have any quality of life at all. There is very little provision for this kind of enforced isolation or sufficient recognition of the resulting excruciating pain this can cause.

    • gretchenrubin

      Very good point. Technology, used well, can be a huge help.

  • http://www.mind-meditations.com Rachel

    This post brought to mind a recent study that found that having substantive, meaningful conversations makes people much happier than lots of small talk. I’ve found this to be true for myself. If I’m feeling lonely, small talk is better than nothing, but having a meaningful conversation with someone is what really chases away the loneliness.

    Here is the study:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100304165902.htm

  • Charlene

    I was just discussing the difference between loneliness and solitude recently with a friend because I read this other blog post:

    http://economicdiscipleship.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/abstinence-and-abundance/#comments

    Mike P makes an interesting observation that really resonates with me: the correlation between number of housemates and his desire for stuff. 

    I think it is a good strategy, to surround yourself with people so that you actually desire solitude, because it’s often easier to try to make time for that than to constantly be seeking community (or other stuff to fill the void).

  • ks

    Like a lot of military spouses, I work from home because it allows me to keep the same job regardless of where we live while also providing stability for our children. Every time we move, I have to start over in terms of finding “connections” but I’ve realized that children are wonderful sources of introduction. I make “mommy friends” at school/sports/etc and they are my temporary social circle. As for intimate attachments, I maintain the same two “best” friends via phone and  Skype and my children provide the daily love and interaction we all need. It isn’t easy to hold loneliness at bay when your life partner is gone more often than not, but it IS doable if you tackle each of your needs head on! 

  • Happy

    Here’s a great video about how to be alone without being lonely:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7X7sZzSXYs

    • Karenb159

       Thanks for posting this video.  I loved it.

    • pj

       This is a wonderful video, thank you.

    • http://twitter.com/havegonevegan HaveGoneVegan

      So lovely. Thank you for posting!

  • Aysel

    I haven’t read the book, but I follow Emily White’s blog on loneliness  http://www.lonelythebook.com/loneliness-blog/. Many comments of the readers of the blog got me into some serious thinking about the scope of the problem. It’s not always possible to find a solution because you can feel extremely lonely even being among people, or having a family, and kids, and a bunch of friends. Loneliness has always been one of my biggest phobias – it has this paralyzing effect  when you feel locked up in something with no doors out, and you start panicking, and you can’t think clearly.  You want to do something drastic in order to escape but you don’t know what…It’s like you were disconnected from the rest of the world.

    • gretchenrubin

      I didn’t know she had a blog — off to check it out right now. Thanks for
      giving the link.

  • http://www.hepaairpurifierratings.com Hepaair81

    In regard to loneliness even being surrounded by many people, Carl Jung said: “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from
    being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself,
    or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” So it could mean that it is due to personal issue that we feel lonely.

  • Liane

    I find that I get most lonely – achingly lonely – if I’m in a big group of people I don’t know very well.  The only way to counteract this is to find one person I can talk to, either at that time or later, and just recharge by being together or having a good conversation.

  • http://www.amylaurenjerome.com Amy

     Funny to read this post from you today, as it connects directly to the post 
    (and mood) that I shared on my blog yesterday (http://amylaurenjerome.wordpress.com/) .  Similarly, I tapped into some of the same ideas in addressing one’s legacy; when we recognize our worth and our impact on others, I think it may be easier to overcome feelings of loneliness and to recognize and embrace the importance of solitude. 
    Thanks for keeping us engaged.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gingerblue Chel Micheline

     I think it’s *super* important not to let someone’s interpretation of what lonely is become your own- what I mean by that is after years of cherishing solitude but questioning my habits, I *finally* realized that I am an introvert. For years I felt “lonely” because people used to ask all the time “aren’t you lonely, not having a roommate?” “Aren’t you lonely, staying home to study instead of going to the library?” “Aren’t you lonely, working from your art studio by yourself instead of going in to an office?” And the answer was always “no, not really” but I started thinking “hey, maybe I *should* feel lonely”. It was only when I started doing research on introverts that I realized my behavior is perfectly normal and, in fact, helps me live a full life. 

    • Nadine

      You should check out Quiet: The Blog by Susan Cain.  It is a wonderful blog dedicated to the introverted life.  I discovered it through this blog.

      • gretchenrubin

        Yes! Susan Cain is a friend of mine — her blog is great, and she’s writing
        a wonderful book about the “power of introverts.”

    • Presing

      Good for you Chel!  I’m exactly the same way, and everywhere I turn, I read that I’m supposed to be unhappy.  I love my solitude  

    • MM

      I am an introvert who was raised by an extremely extroverted mother. (At 72, she’s still an active member of more than 40 organizations.) I was “encouraged” to be in Girl Scouts, Rainbow Girls, and a sorority.  Gaa, the non-stop commotion and obligation!  I was even a high school cheerleader…a strange activity for an introvert, I know.  I like people and don’t have any trouble making friends, but what I love is time to myself to think, read, create, hang out with my husband, and rest.  As an adult, I am quiet and contemplative most days.  Heaven!  I still get pitying comments from my mother, my sister, and even my son who are social butterflies.  Their expectations sometimes make me wonder if I am wasting precious time when I should be fostering my friendships.  But I’m not lonely.  Thanks for your post.

    • Justsbs

      I think your comment is PROFOUND.  I’m a “normal” introvert, too, and I have come to believe that it’s a little harder for the social butterflies to understand introverts than for us to look out at their gatherings and not long to be there :)  Thanks for your comment.

  • The Red Angel

    Thanks for talking about loneliness in today’s post, Gretchen. This was very helpful for me because I just got out of a very serious, long-term relationship and it’s been a very lonely time for me these days. What’s helped me is reaching out to my support system of friends and family. My loneliness comes from the fact that I feel empty inside and I have too much time on my hands, so I try to stay busy. In fact, staying busy has helped me once again appreciate when I AM at home alone. 

    ~TRA

    http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

  • Geraldine

    Some very good advice Gretchen. Loneliness and solitude are definitely two different states of mind. I love being alone (when it’s by choice) to create, work, read…but I do not like feeling lonely. It can be overwhelming and stressful. Thanks for these reminders!

    http://www.takeahappybreak.com  

  • Lauren

     I moved to NYC right after college where I went from having friends around all the time to only know 3 or 4 people in the entire city. I had always had an active social life and the adjustment was a very lonely time for me. It honestly took me about two years to really establish a strong social circle up here the way I had back home. 

    I think one of the hardest parts during that time was that I felt like I wouldn’t ever have that close group of friends up here but what I realize now is that it just takes some time to establish yourself in a new place. My mom moved to New Zealand the same time I moved here and we both had very similar experiences finding new friends. 

    Next time I move to a new city I don’t think the lonely period will be as hard because I’ll know it’s not lasting.

  • LivewithFlair

    You are right on to mention envy as a root cause of loneliness.  I’ve been thinking about how to fight it, and I came up with 2 ways that help me fight envy and restore relationships:  http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/2011/05/2-ways-to-fight-envy.html

  • Julia

     I found someone who wanted the same kind of solidarity I wanted after 2 years of loneliness and doing all the other things. I had the social circle but no quiet presence of another person!  I finally found the person who wanted this with me and we got married 6 months later!

  • http://www.facebook.com/christydianefarr Christy Equality Farr

    I used to use food to combat loneliness… it didn’t work so well. Now, I write: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/loneliness-and-alone-ness.html

  • http://www.healthwealthandhappinessblog.com Madeline

    I have had a few depressive periods in my life.  I was pretty lonely during those times.  I kind of think loneliness and depression might go hand in hand for a lot of people.  Loneliness could lead to depression and likewise, depression feeds loneliness.  

  • cj

     I love this poem from Vikram Seth: 
    All you who sleep tonight
    Far from the ones you love,
    No hand to left or right
    And emptiness above –

    Know that you aren’t alone
    The whole world shares your tears,
    Some for two nights or one,
    And some for all their years.

  • Maria Angelica Paz Garcia Piza

    I really love spending time with people around me, hanging out with friends or my bf. Unfortunately my family is far, so my only family time is through Skype. But I also like my lonely time, spend time meditating, watching something that I like, listening to music, reading, etc… I think that in my case I need a balance to keep myself happy with this subject.

  • TracyW

     I like what you say about needing both sets of relationships. My husband and I moved countries, to a city where I already had several friends. But then in a few months they moved away, and I found myself lonely for people I could just call up to make arrangements to see a movie with or go shopping. I had the “quiet presence”, but not the circle. 

  • Maria Angelica Paz Garcia Piza

    In my case I need some sort of balance between being surrounded  by people and being lonely.  I work as Guest Services Agent in a Hotel, so I see and talk with different people everyday, plus I’m very social and friendly so I’m always making new friends. I love spending time with friends, boyfriend or family (well, family time for me is through Skype because they live back home). But sometimes I need time by my own, I enjoy doing some stuff when no one is around me, like reading, meditate, clean, bake, sing, write, or just lay down and watch a TV show that I like and there is no one around.

    http://angieslifeblog.blogspot.com/

  • kj

    I feel more lonely in a group of people to whom I cannot relate than I do being by myself with my dog and talking to others one on one.    For instance, I was just in a three-week class with people with whom I had little in common, and several of these were loud extroverts.  It was a bit draining.  At dinner our last few nights, I was seated next to two of them and felt completely trapped.  Fortunately, the person on my left was more mellow like me and had the same perspective about our dining environment.  Once I began focusing attention on her and her also-mellow husband, I felt much less isolated.   After returning from the trip Tuesday, I felt fine walking my dog through our neighborhood, just greeting and smiling at people.   My dog and small groups are key.  Since I have ADD, medication also helps with the internal thought processing and behavior in social interactions. 

  • http://peppywrites.com Peppy

    I have always wondered how much of a persons feeling lonely is connected to the quality of the relationships they have cultivated.

    I was an active person and loved being with my friends and family – a diagnosis of Lou Gehrigs disease changed all of that dramatically and most of my time is being stuck at home in bed. I am often asked if I am lonely.

    That is what I think is odd – though I am alone quite often,  I never feel lonely. And it’s not because I’m filling the gap by talking to friends on the phone because  I can’t talk on the phone (due to being trached).  I can still text – but I hate it :) – so that is for my husband to use to check on me while at work.

    However, when my friends are here for a visit we have a wonderful time and plenty of laughter … my husband and I laugh all the time … and when I am alone I find I enjoy the solitude while working on the computer, my blog, reading …..

    It seems the relationships I enjoy with my husband and friends offers a sense of well-being – a contentment and appreciation for what I can still enjoy in life.

    I guess it’s my quality of life that keeps me from feeling lonely.(?)

    Thank you for such an insightful article!

    Peppy

  • http://www.henzlerworks.com Claudia Henzler

    Thanks for your great advises upon so many different areas of life. Gretchen, I am really thankful for sharing your insights with us.

    Sunny greetings from Vienna, Austria
    Claudia
    (freelance photographer)

  • TracyM

     Gretchen, this article came at such a perfect and pivotal time! I am a single parent to a child with a mild special need diagnosis and just recently realized I am dealing with loneliness. I, too, want the quiet presence of another person and have had a few unsuccessful forays into the dating scene.  With the time constraints of single parenthood and my intorverted-ness, “getting back out there”, as many family and friends suggest,  can be  challenging and overwhelming. I have great friends at work, and my work is extremely fulfilling. (I teach Pre-K in a public school) I love the realization that my loneliness may be affecting how I see social situations and interpret so much of life.  I’m very curious to see what both loneliness books have to say. Thank you!!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that the post resonates with you. Good luck!

  • Moxueyuan

    I think what you said is right. This essay is very good

  • LM8

    Lonely by Emily White is a great read…coincidentally I just started reading the same week as this post.

  • MML

    The best antidote for loneliness and feeling sorry for myself has been to volunteer for others who are less fortunate. This way I’m faced with the realization that things could be worse and how grateful I am for all that I have (good health, food to eat, etc.).

  • Mona

    What’s an extrovert to do when everything fails? I am outgoing, funny, intelligent, well educated, I speak 5 languages, I participated in tons of activities with others (from public speaking to acting, clowning and many others). And I am as alone as ever. We live in a highly individualistic society where loneliness seems to be advertised as the “new holy grail” (and I base this statement on many articles I read in various magazines taunting how great it is to be single, how we do not need others to be happy blablabla). I do agree that it is better alone than in bad company. But meaningful connection take time and effort from all parts involved. And we live in a time where instant gratification rules. I cannot change myself to fit in this mold. So what is the solution for somebody like me? There is no solution … Yes, I have friends I see every now and then. Yes, I am grateful for having a roof and food on the table. Yes, I am fully aware that things could be much worse. Still, an important piece of the puzzle is missing and I cannot put it in place. I don’t see how going around telling myself i ooze hapiness when I spend 99% of my time alone is actually going to make me happy. I am to the point where I look forward to something breaking in my house – at least this way my contractor will come over and there will be somebody around for a couple of hours. If this is not lame, I don’t know what it is …

    • Broadway_bound98

      Thank you, Mona.  You have summed up my life exactly.   I even used to be one of those people who said that I’m glad that I’m alone to do things when I want and where I want.  That was when I was in my 20s.  I’m now in my 40s and it’s an awful way to live.  I, too, have a few friends but they have their own lives and loves.  Like you I’m alone 99% of the time and the hardest thing is that I thought I had found that missing puzzle piece.  He, unfortunately, did not feel the same way.  Now the loneliness is twice as bad.    Maybe we can both arrange to hire someone to break into our respective homes. 

      • Jen

        I am lonely myself. While I dont need the company of a large group-I do like the company of one. It’s no fun to go places alone, no one to share your interests with. While I believe we all need a little alone time-like maybe time to sit and read a book. But I am single after 20yrs and have a new love but he is more about himself and his friends than spending quality time with me. He only wants me around when he cant be with his other friends-this just makes me even more sad. He also doesnt want me to join him with his friends. I am a very outgoing person and easy to get along with. However he can never be alone-not one night goes by that he isnt hanging out at the local bar. How sad is that? I work in a office where I am usually alone and then go home alone. I am always up for getting together with people-but found that everyone is business with their own lives and could really care less about you. I have no kids, no family except 1 sister. I must admit I am very lonely and very sad 90% of time.

        • Amy Poole

          Jen-it sounds like your new love might be assisting in magnifying your loneliness. I’m not trying to tell you to do anything in particular, but maybe spend some time thinking about how he’s made you feel since you began seeing him…are you more lonely now that you have someone but don’t really have him? Perhaps try to talk to him about the problem and worst case, make an effort to do something that interests you in an effort to meet more people who share your interests. I had a boyfriend for a over a year once, who, while he shared my interests somewhat, he constantly was spending time with his buds & I would be the pathetic tagalong. I hated feeling that way. Obviously, our relationship was not going to last. I was already friends with my husband, who I married a few years later. He should value you as much as you value him and if he would rather hang with his bar buddies, maybe you are better off without him.

    • Carytbc

      Why dont you go out and see bands or go to markets or something if you are this extrovert like I am you will meet people out! dont you think!

  • Shelley G.

    I read about 5 minutes of the blog “lonely” by Emily White and found it utterly depressing and she seemed “hopeless” in the three posts that I read.

  • Justsbs

    Important information, and helpful.  Much appreciated!

  • HK

    I have learnt that when I feel lonely I am not lonely for “company” I am lonely for “kind”.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a very profound point.

      _____

  • Melinampa

    i cannot stay alone  in my house ,and when I make a relatioship  I ruin it because of too much love I give…If is not normal  , I think I will always ruin any relationship I make  …

  • Chuck

    I’ve enjoyed reading these posts. Everyone has their own
    unique take on what loneliness is and what works for them. That is as is should
    be. We all find our own way in our own time. Sometimes it seems to slow or
    hopeless though…

    Isn’t it funny that the last thing we will try is to love
    and accept ourselves? I find it so
    strange that for 46~ years, I looked anywhere except inside myself. Who then can give us love but ourselves? It isn’t even so much a conscious effort to
    love ourselves as it is to notice the voices and feelings that are so sure we
    are unloved. These voices and feelings
    are actually the very thing we need to love.
    Once they feel heard they quite down.
    Most of us rejected pieces of ourselves around 3 or 5 and then went on a
    journey to make these feelings be quiet and prove our fears wrong. All along they only wanted to have their say
    and be heard so they could go back to enjoying life.

    Here is a talk I gave at a workshop on ending the war with
    myself:

    My Loneliness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-cHLUGiyxk&feature=youtu.be

    Chuck
    Author of “The End of Loneliness”
    http://www.theendofloneliness.net

  • Patty D

    I thought No. 3 and No. 5 were interesting. No. 3 because I know people like this and No. 5 cause I never thought of it that way. Maybe it would be nice but maybe not! Becareful what you ask for. I am very happy having my space to myself. I want the remote in my hand and things the way “I” want. Someone can “visit” but not to be here for too long and not to move in! Over and done with that! :)
    And yes, sometimes it gets lonesome but I get over it somehow and do something and I am fine! Would not change it.