More negative propaganda about loneliness.

Today, there was yet another story on the dire effects of loneliness. The headline screamed, “Loneliness twice as unhealthy as obesity for older people, study finds.” And of course these findings point to a pending “crisis.” The researchers found that feelings of isolation can have a “devastating” effect on older people.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these findings. First, we see that the study was conducted on 2,000 people aged 50 and over. Compared with the average person in the study, those who reported being lonely had a 14% greater risk of dying. A 14% greater risk. And right after this, we are informed that poverty increases the risk of an early death by 19%. So why is the headline about loneliness when in fact poverty is the greater risk for an early death? How many of the lonely people in the study were also living in poverty?

The article contained 576 words. Thirteen words were given to presenting the other side of the story, “The researchers found that some people were happy living a life of solitude.” The next sentence was . . . “being lonely not only made life miserable for older people, but also made them more vulnerable to illness and disease.” Not one comment was put forth on the fact that some of the older people in the study were happy living a life of solitude.

I am so tired of this negative propaganda about loneliness. The facts are always distorted, the information is always biased, and the writers are always trying to drum up an artificial crisis.

Why doesn’t anybody write about how older people are marginalized by society, how they are ridiculed and shamed on television shows, how they are treated with disrespect by younger people and pushed out of jobs? To ignore the social context that older people live in – and simply call the pain they experience, loneliness (which is generally viewed as a personal failing or a personal problem), is a very obvious attempt to either hide or ignore the real issues.

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13 thoughts on “More negative propaganda about loneliness.

  1. Greetings Rachel—-your posts are very interesting, because you also are. But it almost sounds as if introversion is a recent development with you, a result of your having to spend more time by yourself due to not working. It seems writing comes quite naturally for you and wouldn’t there be work available in the field for you? Perhaps you’ve not found a job, because you’re not supposed to be working. Ah, but you would know as you do the I Ching!

    To get on topic here, I think you are correct about how these articles do go on about loneliness. As if living alone you’re automatically shunted into this box with only the 4 walls of isolation. It’s those researchers / writers themselves whose minds are boxed in, wouldn’t you say? I think it’s a fact the more integrated one is, the easier it is for one to live alone, and quite happily. It can be quite satisfying from the standpoint of that spacious feeling of freedom and the exhilaration of getting a lot done of the things one wants to do.

    From the research article you read, just think, going by their findings (and that from similar research), how terrible it could be for an obese aging female, introverted, living alone below the poverty line, next to a railway line but on the wrong side of it, as a person of color who had become an adherent of Judaism, but doesn’t attend services at the synagogue. Don’t believe a word of it!

    In any case if we want to be literal, then it wasn’t about women when Thoreau said: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

    He also wrote: “In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

    Thank you, Rachel, for your compact and thoughtful articles!

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    1. I enjoyed reading your comment. Thank you for the compliments. I took the Myer Briggs Test over twenty years ago and came out an INTJ. Looking back over my life, I think I have always been an introvert. I have been paid to write in the past, so at some point I might be paid again. But as you say, perhaps I am not supposed to be working at a job right now. You made some very good, and witty, points about loneliness. Personally, I think women enjoy the soul searching that comes with aging more than men do, but to be honest, I don’t know many men.

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  2. Now you know (of) another one. Maybe I might end up in the ‘long distance’ section of your collection? Myer Briggs, sounds familiar. INTJ? Interested in journalism!? Perhaps I should have said it’s now you’re really getting into your introversion, tasting it.

    Yes, women seem more capable (to a point) of ‘soul searching,’ while men tend to gravitate to the logos end of the mind. Which sounds like a generalization, but I think it’s all part of the diversity in nature, which we definitely are; nature, what else can we be? Myself, have always noted my introversion and didn’t care what people thought. Haven’t fully scoured out my soul; a little more to go. And it’s quite a demarcation — before and after crossing into the ‘aging’ zone. An entirely new adventure!

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    1. I requested, and just received, a copy of the study that the article is based on and there are some very strange things about it. If I get more information, I will do a follow-up post. I think feeling lonely is more about depression than being alone. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. I would agree with ‘eat less sugar’ that being alone, and NOT wanting to be alone are two different ideas. I am an introvert and love being alone. When I am contented alone, I cannot be lonely. Loneliness always has a negative element to it, implying that one does not want to be alone. And many people prefer to be always with other people. Is loneliness true of older people, in general? Well, it would seem to be it relates back again their personality. One’s personality doesn’t change simply because one is ‘Older’. If a person has always been out and about ,wanting to be with people and now being older, and perhaps is now health limited, then it is highly likely that that person is lonely, and does feel devastated by that loss of companionship. But, there are many ways to deal with this. Whether older or younger, it matters one whether one enjoys solitude or one does not that creates a feeling of loneliness. One does not feel lonely due to one’s age, specifically. Age has really nothing to do with it. All age groups feel lonely and it is how each person deals with it that creates loneliness ,or not.

    To your second point:

    Why doesn’t anybody write about how older people are marginalized by society, how they are ridiculed and shamed on television shows, how they are treated with disrespect by younger people and pushed out of jobs?

    I would answer that there are actually many who do write on this topic, although we more talk about ageism. Ageism, just like other ‘ism’ like sexism or racism, is not a good quality in a society. I often post on ageism, as do many others.(Time goes by is a web site that often posts on this topic http://www.timegoesby.net/) . I would agree with you that there is a need to deal with ageism in our youth-orientated society. I prefer to address the topic in my blog in a positive way.
    I look forward to hearing more about the study. I enjoy your postings.

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    1. Thank you for making some very good points. One of the things I often hear people say about loneliness is that it is simply a matter of whether one likes or does not like being alone, the ongoing alone vs. lonely debate. I, personally, have never thought of being lonely as a continuous state, (if it becomes a continuous state then the person is probably depressed or self-loathing). As an introvert, most of the time I prefer being alone, but this does not mean that I am deliriously happy every moment I am alone. Sometimes I don’t like it. Sometimes I don’t like being an introvert. Does admitting this move me into the lonely category? I don’t think so. A woman waiting for her boyfriend to call can feel lonely until she hears the phone ring. A man can feel lonely after his wife dies. Feeling lonely is part of life, it can happen in the midst of a party or on a desolate island. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

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      1. I laughed at that line “this does not mean that I am deliriously happy every moment I am alone.” Exactly. Have you read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking? It is worth reading . I consider myself an introvert mostly because I am content being alone, yet, if you saw my day, you’d see me teaching and mentoring people all day. So, does that mean I am not an introvert? Ah, but I am. Just love to help people! There is somehow this idea that if one feels happy alone, there must be something wrong. Maybe if one is alone ALL the time. But, many thinkers needed to spend time alone to consider their ideas. Being alone in and of itself is not the point, as you mention. Typically, extroverts when they are a-lone feel lone-ly in that aloneness and it bothers them. Unlike introverts who typically when they are a-lone have a sense of peace and contentment. Although, I admit that i too sometimes in my earlier life felt a need to combat being an introvert. It did not sit well with me. I am now able to say to my family, I need space to just be, a-lone. I’d love to hear your response to the book. My son, an introvert, actually listened to it on audio on a long 16hr drive and enjoyed it. An introvert, yet he spends all day in a job that has guys continually talking to him. Maybe introverts are more notable or noticed to day because in this noisy world, it is harder to carve out the time to simply be with oneself, and listen to one’s own thoughts.

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      2. Thank you for reading and commenting. I read some of Quiet, but for me, there was too much emphasis on overachievers and success. I’m glad the book is generating awareness of introversion and admire the author for putting so much of her heart into it. I guess I just didn’t see much of “me” in it. I preferred Sophie Dembling’s, The Introvert’s Way, Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. I am beginning to think that introversion takes on a different flavor, or path when one gets older. A growing percentage of older women are “alone pretty much all the time.” There is wisdom and value during this stage of an introvert’s life as well. I find that “being happy” is less important than it used to be. Instead of looking for things in the outer to excite me, I am finding my inner world to be a rich source of both pleasure and pain; I accept, savor and learn from both.

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      3. Hum, I will try to find that book. It is not at my local library. I so agree with you that finding an inner world that you accept and savour is key to living life well. Have you read this post Called the Secret Life of an Introvert? This is also a link to an introvert’s page. I think it is important to stress that being loud and Out There is not only Not what everyone wants, and introvert and shy are not the same thing. Here’s the link –
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marsha-pinto/the-secret-life-of-an-int_b_4831284.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063–

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      4. Thanks good article. Having known about introversion when I was young would have made a huge difference. I am beginning to think more people are introverted than extroverted, but because of the negative stereotypes, are trying to hide it and fake being an extrovert. This could be part of the reason why some people drink and use drugs – so they can appear more friendly and social.

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