Why Millennials Are Lonely

Posted on May 29, 2017

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Feeling lonely? You're not alone.

According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985. "Zero" is the most common number of companions, reported by almost a quarter of those surveyed. But why is this? Caroline Beaton of Forbes magazine sees two main explanations:


1. Loneliness is contagious.
Why? "Lonely people are less able to pick up on positive social stimuli, like others' attention and commitment signals, so they withdraw prematurely - in many cases before they're actually socially isolated. Their inexplicable withdrawal may, in turn, make their close connections feel lonely too." Lonely people also tend to act in a less trusting manner, which may further weaken social ties and impart loneliness in others.

Like other contagions, loneliness is bad for you. Lonely teenagers show more social stress compared to their not-lonely counterparts. Feeling lonely can also increase risk of death by 26% and double our risk of dying from heart disease.

But why has loneliness only recently gotten worse?


2. The Internet makes millennial loneliness viral.
This may be because we attempt to substitute real relationships with online ones. And though we temporarily feel better when we engage with others virtually, these connections tend to be superficial and ultimately dissatisfying. "Online social contacts are not an effective alternative for offline social interactions," says one study.

Excessive Internet can also increase our feelings of loneliness because it disconnects us from the real world. "Research shows that lonely people use the web to 'feel totally absorbed online' - a state that inevitably subtracts time and energy that could otherwise be spent on social activities and building more fulfilling offline relationships."


In his 1970 book 'The Pursuit of Loneliness', sociologist Phillip Slater termed the "Toilet Assumption": our (false) belief that undesirable feelings and social realities will "simply disappear if we ignore them." While Slater's idea may just be that - an assumption - it gives no excuse for us to ignore genuine, face-to-face interaction while attempting to forge temporary, online friendships. The Internet has only proven to be a futile way to flush away loneliness; thus, perhaps the answer to loneliness ultimately lies in reaching out personally rather than virtually.


Category(s):Depression, Friendships

Source material from Forbes


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