John M Oldham and Lois B Morris
Most of us need some “alone time,” to think, to work, to meditate. Or just quiet time to read a book or listen to music, without interruptions. But feeling lonely is different. It’s a dark-colored place. An unhappy, empty room, filled just with longing, not loved ones. Many of us have had lonely times in our lives, but they were temporary. What if we felt lonely and disconnected most of the time? How many of us are in that camp?
The US Surgeon General, Dr Vivek Murthy, issued a remarkable Advisory, called “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation, 2023” (https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf). “Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling,” Murthy says, “it harms both the individual and societal health.” Loneliness is not just social isolation, he emphasizes. It’s the distress of being alone and socially disconnected but not wanting it to be that way. And when that’s the case, it can be deadly for your overall health—for example, increasing your risk of premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
One of the many factors listed in the report that can shape social connection is one’s personality. And here we can get some help from NPSP25. One of the 14 personality styles described is the Solitary style. People scoring high on this style are generally stoic, self-contained, and comfortable being alone. In other words, people with this style may not yearn for social connections. They prefer to be alone much of the time, and they don’t feel lonely. More often, however, we need others in our lives. People with prominent styles such as Devoted, Self-Sacrificing, or Dramatic are at their best when in relationships with those they care about. When they are deprived of contact with others (think of the isolation during the pandemic), they are lonely. For them, if that goes on for too long, their overall mental and physical health can suffer. The Surgeon General’s report has plenty of advice to help us re-connect and stay connected with others, steps that will help us stay healthy. Check out the Advisory; it’s chock full of wisdom!