Loneliness is a seriously increasing problem of our time. Being lonely doesn’t mean being alone. We are lonelier in wrong relationships than being by ourselves.

Sometimes many of us feel like walking alone while we are surrounded by a big crowd. The quantity of social interaction doesn’t matter, but rather the quality of it.

According to psychologists, loneliness is a damaging state of mind and can also be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression. It is a universal human emotion. It makes us feel empty, alone and even unwanted. John Cacioppo, a social psychologist at the University of Chicago, found in a study that loneliness has many negative effects on both physical and mental health, such as cardiovascular disease and strokes, increased stress levels, reduced memory and learning, alcoholism and drug abuse, and more.

Some researchers suggest that loneliness is becoming more common by living alone. Amanda Gardner indicated on CNN in March that:

… in a study of nearly 3,500 men and women ages 30 to 65, researchers in Finland found that people who lived alone were more likely [than] their peers to receive a prescription for antidepressant drugs. One quarter of people living alone filled an antidepressant prescription during the seven-year study, compared to just 16 percent of those who lived with spouses, family, or roommates.

Another study by Cacioppo claims that “loneliness can be contagious.” A 10-year study found that loneliness spreads in social networks. Fifty-two percent of the people who were close to someone experiencing loneliness were more likely to become lonely as well.

However, since it is complex and unique to each individual, psychology doesn’t have any common preventions or treatments for loneliness.

When I was researching this article, I realized that there are plenty of songs and poems about loneliness. They are maybe as many as love songs. And they give good clues about it.

Life without a true friend and/or a loved one can be extremely lonely. To stop loneliness from sneaking into our life we should be brave and open the doors of our heart because we feel lonely when we don’t feel connected to others.

Technology is responsible for loneliness, too. With our cell phones and gadgets with the power of social media, we are able to embrace the whole world easily while neglecting our loved ones near us. So we should be very careful when determining our priorities.

About a year ago I read an article in the LA Times about an old movie star’s terrifying death. The name of the article is enough to explain why I was furious when I read it: “Mummified body of former Playboy playmate Yvette Vickers found in her Benedict Canyon home.”

The piece said, “Her body appears to have gone undiscovered for months” and, “To the end she still got cards and letters from all over the world requesting photos and still wanting to be her friend.”

Being famous is also a risk factor for being lonely. It seems like you cannot develop a good relationship but only shallow ones. Vickers’ phone bills are proof to support that idea. In May, a noteworthy article in the Atlantic magazine claimed that Facebook makes us lonelier and indicated that “[s]he had made calls not to friends or family but to distant fans who had found her through fan conventions and Internet sites.”

Vickers’ horrible end can happen to anybody while our Web connections go broader and our companionship gets more superficial. Nowadays, our paradox is living isolated but accessible. Yet within this world of instant and limitless communication, with endless time or space, we experience a unique alienation and become more detached from one another. Thus, we have become a less real society. It’s ironic, but the more connected we become, the more lonesome we are.

Feeling alone makes us miserable and vulnerable. However, an independent adult can live alone happily and in solitude. That is a natural need for an intelligent, educated individual. Thus, we are unprecedentedly happy when we are in solitude. In some cases crowded parties can be agony, yet solitude can be divine. For many of us, protecting our solitude helps us to connect with God, and that connection is also an invincible enemy of loneliness. However, separated from the world, we voluntarily live in the shell of our solitude like a cocoon, then end up complaining how lonely we have become. We should remember that loneliness is the pain of being alone, yet solitude is the splendor of being alone, and that to have long-lasting happiness we should remember the difference in between.

This article previously was published in Today’s Zaman.

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