In all of the research regarding this topic, it boiled down to this: Alone is a state of being and loneliness is a state of mind.
Let’s unwrap this a little. Alone is a state of being; something you physically are at that time and in that space. For example, if you are home by yourself, you are alone; if you are on a golf course with no one around, you are alone; and if you are at the office and everyone has gone home, you are alone. In each of these examples, being alone changes when another person enters the space you are in. When alone, you have the ability to change from being alone to not being alone simply by inviting someone into your space.
Loneliness is a state of mind, meaning an emotional state of being, or when we feel emotionally disconnected from the people around us. Let’s use the same examples as before. If you are home and the house is filled with family or friends but you don’t feel you can open up, you are feeling lonely; if you are on the golf course with 3 others in your group but feel disconnected, you are feeling lonely; if you are at an office party, surrounded by co-workers and no one wants to hear more than “fine” when asked “How are you?”, you are lonely.
Loneliness is much harder to remedy, because of the complexity of feeling in sync with another human being. Loneliness is difficult to change because of our own resistance to being vulnerable and the hard time we have acknowledging these painful feelings. Finally, loneliness is challenging because of the skills required for two individuals to be emotionally connected.
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”
So how can we be more aware and purposeful with our lives in order to battle loneliness? If loneliness were associated with being connected with another person, whether it is a spouse, close relative, or a friend, it would seem like spending time with others would be a good start.
The French philosopher Simone Weil once wrote that attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. She lived in the early twentieth century without any of the digital distractions of today, so imagine how generous we have to be today that there are so many more alternatives. But being purposeful in battling loneliness does mean making an effort to make time for the people you are about.
University of North Carolina Professor, Barbara Fredrickson, cautioned that even though giving attention to another is great, it works even better when you start by giving yourself attention. She is quoted of saying “Your brain is tied to your heart”. That’s very difficult for us men, because generally speaking this is an area we avoid. Even though this can be difficult for many of us, the professor’s message is very clear in how the battle against loneliness starts by taking care of our self first before we move on to help others.
The message from the professionals is that we not only are suppose to give our attention to our selves and people we care about instead of distractions such as phones, computers, and TV’s, but we also need to be vulnerable when doing so. So, when you are with friends and family be brave and talk about worries or fears; when you are on the golf course show your strength by sharing a story of happiness and sadness; and when you are at work be an example for others by sharing stories of anger and frustrations.
Finally, Robin Williams once said, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” Whether you are alone or lonely, it is worth your time and effort to process your state of being as well as your state of mind. Telling your story and hearing others, can only lead to a happier, healthier, and longer life for you and others around you. It has for me.
Armann earned his Masters Degree in Professional Counseling from Mercer University, as well as becoming Mercer’s counseling student of the year. Armann has focused his practice on helping men, because they (we) desperately need it. Armann’s goal is to empower men to show how brave and manly they are by Talking It Out, so they can live a Happier, Healthier, and Longer life. You can connect with Armann via Linked In