Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Are We So Lonely?

Heightened loneliness may be the biggest tragedy of No Place. Living where we do not know our neighbors, where there is no central place to gather, where we spend a great deal of time in our cars, where we do not feel connection to the land, the climate, or the community, many of us often find ourselves overwhelmed with inexplicable homesickness and feelings of alienation.

In the excellent book Loneliness, John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick show through scientific study that social connection is vital to human well being and "is a fundamental part of the human operating system." Drawing from research on brain imaging as well as analysis of blood pressure, immune response, stress hormones, behavior, and gene expression, the book reveals just how intertwined and interdependent we are as human beings, and argues that we have everything to gain, and everything to lose, in how well or how poorly we manage our need for human connection. Perhaps the email from "a man in California" sums up the soul-sick loneliness better than the authors' scientific studies:

"I remember the year eye contact stopped. It was not some big demographic shift. People just seemed to give up on relating to each other. Now this town is one of the loneliest places on earth. People are vaguely paranoid, oversensitive and self-involved. Incomes are high, the cost of living is astronomical, but everybody is in debt, living in million-dollar homes and eating take-out pizza. And when the divorce comes, the guy moves out of the house to live on his boat."

Photo courtesy of juditny

No comments: