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Cristiano Ronaldo has 120 million. Barack Obama has 53 million. Donald Trump has 24 million. I am, of course, talking about Facebook followers.
Does Donald worry that Barack has twice as many cyber friends as him? Or is it comforted by the fact that Hillary Clinton only has 10 million?
Facebook followers are not friends, of course. They do not come to have a coffee and chat. If they did, Christian would have to serve 330,000 friends each day.
We have never been so connected, but for millions, this is the era of loneliness.
One of the biggest changes in the way we live has been the large increase in the number of people living alone .
In part, it’s because we live longer: there are more and more elderly people whose partners have died.
But there are also single parents whose children have already left home and people who were married but their relationship collapsed, especially middle-aged men.
Solitude is not the same as loneliness
For many people, however, living alone is not a problem.
The International Journal of Aging and Later Life recently included an article complaining about representation in the Finnish media of lonely elderly people as a problem .
One section, entitled “The possibility of positive solitude”, argued that loneliness, silence and privacy can be seen as necessary requirements for creative work.
In addition, the document suggests that positive loneliness is not only a prerequisite for writing or painting, but also has other beneficial meanings.
There are risks in confusing loneliness and being alone.
Some people like their own company and revel in the qualities of loneliness.
The American essayist Alice Koller decided to become a hermit and, from that experience, wrote a series of essays entitled “The seasons of solitude”.
” To be lonely is to be alone and well, ” he concluded. “Being alone, lavishly immersed in activities of your own choosing, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than the absence of others, because solitude is an achievement.”
I tend to persuade more the thoughts of the philosopher Francis Bacon on the subject: ” Who is enchanted in solitude is a wild beast or a god “.
It was interesting to note the reaction of the British press a few years ago to a discourse on social exclusion and isolation made by David Halpern, of the Behavior Analysis team of the government of the United Kingdom.
The team was studying how behavioral economics and psychology could be exploited to deal with loneliness.
At a summit in Sweden, Halpern was asked about how the government could encourage older people to stay active.
He replied: ” Having someone who loves you, someone you can talk to if you have a problem, is the most powerful predictor of whether you are going to be alive in 10 years , more than any other factor, certainly more than smoking.”
He talked about the low occupancy of the houses and the convenience of retired people returning to work.
The response of some sectors was scathing.
A newspaper titled his article with: “Elders: return to work and lower their standard of living,” and quoted the group of people over 50 called Saga saying it was “suggesting that older people do not deserve to live in their own homes. it’s a scandalous social engineering on the part of the government . “
The librarian blogger Anna Raccoon also interpreted the comments as evidence of an intrusion and an aggressive government : “Work until you fall, we do not want you to die peacefully in your home, but surrounded by other exhausted retirees.”
In fact, the research referred to by David Halpern is a meta-analysis of 148 studies on the effects of social isolation on mortality by scholars at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina.
The researchers were able to observe the lives of almost 309,000 people for an average of 7 and a half years, an importantly large sample.
What emerged was that those with stronger social relationships were 50% more likely to survive than those who led more solitary lives.
A deeply powerful find.
This research does not show that pensioners do better if they have friends.
It indicates that we all have the possibility of enjoying health benefits if we have an active social life. Human beings are social creatures and we are hungry for contact. Without it we literally die .
The conclusion of the US investigation notes that “many decades ago, high mortality rates were observed among babies in custodial care [ie, orphanages], even when controlling for pre-existing health conditions and medical treatment.”
Then it was noted that the lack of human contact predicted mortality among these children.
” The medical profession was surprised to learn that babies would die without social interaction, ” the research team recalled.
“That single finding, so simple in retrospect, produced changes in practice and policies that markedly reduced mortality rates in orphanages.”
Bad to health
Loneliness is bad for our health. Seriously bad. Doctors have known for decades.
An article in the journal Science in 1988 noted that ” social relations, or the relative lack of them, constitute an important risk factor for health , rivaling the effect of well-established health risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity and physical activity. “
More recent research concludes that, if the impact of isolation is potentially so great on our health, we should do more to prevent it .
“Medical care could recommend, if not openly promote improved social connections, hospitals and clinics could involve support networks for patients in the implementation and monitoring of treatment and compliance regimes, etc.”.
Two friendship pills
That we prescribe a dose of friendship and a couple of companion tablets that should be taken three times a day?
But maybe the findings drive us to go further.
What is really required, it seems to me, is that the communities function well. That the neighborhoods take responsibility for themselves.
That they look for ways to make newcomers feel welcome and that long-time residents feel part of something larger than themselves, so that they feel safe to live their lives as Trappist monks if they wish, knowing that they still They are connected to a society that is willing to offer them company and support if necessary .
Most people would agree that it is not the State’s job to tell people that they have to go to dances or to have coffee with friends.
But it can provide information about the benefits of having friendships and encourage communities to help their members lead full social lives whenever they want.
‘A great service for humanity’
In the UK, Soledad Jo Cox Commission gathered evidence that 200,000 elderly people had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month and up to 85% of young adults with disabilities say they feel alone of the days.
The world-renowned behavioral economist, Prof. Daniel Kahneman, told me the following: “It turns out that about 15% of the total time people spend is unpleasant.
“If you can reduce that number from 15% to 14%, you would be doing a great service to humanity .”
What proportion of that 15% of time is unpleasant because people are lonely when they crave company?
Imagine if the world could offer these people the hand of friendship. A smile and a word . Company when they want it and privacy when they want it. That would be a great service for humanity.