In stark and startling-fast fashion, Americans are choosing to be alone more than ever before.
According to various reports, by 2021, adults in the U.S. were spending 58% less time with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, than they were in 2014. Meanwhile, the amount of time spent completely alone has increased at a similar pace during this period.
For teenagers, the 2014-2021 period has been particularly difficult. By 2021, U.S. teenagers were spending 64% less time with friends and 48% more time alone as compared to 2014.
Connected to this loneliness trend are numerous mental and physical health outcomes. For instance, sleep disorders, substance abuse, neurological disorders, stress, anger, violence, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns are all positively associated with being lonely. Reduced workplace productivity and job dissatisfaction also are correlated with loneliness.
To say that the trend of more disconnection and more solitary experiences is troubling is a significant understatement.
There is, though, at least one non-pharmacological antidote to loneliness: the prosocial behaviors of volunteering and giving. Both volunteerism and charitable giving are negatively correlated with loneliness. And both types of prosocial behaviors are positively correlated with numerous mental and physical health benefits.
Simply put, when we give in support of others, we become healthier – mentally as well as physically. And we report feeling less lonely. As Dr. James Lynch, psychologist, researcher, and pioneer in the field of health and human loneliness has stated, “One thing you get from caring is that you are not lonely. And the more connected you are to life, the healthier you are.”
Similarly, Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project states in a recent report,
“We need to return to an idea that was central to our founding and is at the heart of many great religious traditions: We have commitments to ourselves, but we also have vital commitments to each other, including to those who are vulnerable.”
People today are reaping the sad outcomes of our hyper-individualized and socially-disconnected world. Voluntarily giving and offering our time helps connect us to others, offers a pathway toward caring for others, leads to less loneliness, and greater health.
As you invite people to volunteer and give during this season of giving in support of your institution’s worthy mission, I hope you will also realize that you and your colleagues are on the front-lines of a much larger theatre.
You are helping to connect people. You are giving people a pathway to care for others. And you are helping make people feel less lonely.
We need you and your efforts more today than ever before.