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The “Loneliness Epidemic” Is Here — But You Don’t Have To Be Lonely

Being lonely in an interconnected world — how is that possible?

Dominik Nitsch
6 min read
The “Loneliness Epidemic” Is Here — But You Don’t Have To Be Lonely
Just one of the three rooms and two bathrooms. It’s easy to get lost — and lonely — in my apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia.

“Holy shit, if you’re not staying at hostels but at AirBNBs, it’s super hard to meet people” — me, a few weeks ago while traveling through Eastern Europe on my own.

Sitting in my way-too-decadent apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia, I felt an emotion that I hadn’t felt in a while: loneliness. I was on my own. No friends, no family, no romantic partner, no acquaintances around.

Feeling that emotion made me appreciate everyone I have at home: my family, my friends, my colleagues, even the people I only vaguely interact with. It’s nice to have a tribe, a community.

While the feeling of loneliness was a rare occurrence for me, it is becoming more and more the norm.

In an article called Millennials and the loneliness epidemic, 23% percent of all millennials are reported to always or often feel lonely. Which strikes me as very strange, considering we live in a highly connected world where it only takes a quick text message to set up a date, a beer, or any other kind of human interaction.

Why are millennials lonely? Here are my 4 hypotheses:

Personal interaction is at an all time low.

“Man, what is it with these customers today”, the cashier at my local supermarket sighed in frustration. “what’s up?”, I asked her. “Today it’s especially bad, but generally, people are just so rude. Nobody looks you in the eye anymore, everyone is just focused on their phone. They don’t even take out the headphones anymore. It makes me feel like I’m not even there, not even respected as human being.”

This is symptomatic for our generation, and generally for many people these days. The interactions with the cashiers at supermarkets always brighten my day, just a quick smile and thank you for a stranger can do so much for you.

But it’s also uncomfortable to interact with a stranger. Hence, many simply proceed to stare down at their phone, make a transaction, and leave.

Hell, if you’re not even able to have a simple personal interaction like that, how will you talk to your friends — or, god beware, meet new people?

Give your cashier a smile, chat him or her up and then grab your groceries. It might just make their day.

We don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable.

Do you know that feeling with your work colleagues that you really vibe with at work, but as soon as the conversation drifts into the personal realm, they shut off?

This is also symptomatic for our generation: we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable. By lifting the veil of our work selves, and letting our private selves shine through, we make ourselves vulnerable. Imagine you tell your colleagues that you’re a highly passionate Magic: the Gathering player. Will they give you shit for sitting in gyms or basements on your days off, slinging cards with other fellow nerds?

Yes, they will. 100%. I know, because I’ve spent a lot of time in my life playing that very game and loving it. And I’ve gotten bullied about it, too.

It’s easier not to share that stuff, to simply keep up your professional self.

But without making yourself vulnerable, it’s impossible to build a real relationship with someone. Not having a “real” relationship, a true friendship, is what makes people feel lonely.

So open up, show your colleagues, your acquaintances, who you truly are. If you’re happy with yourself, they will like you. And if they don’t — well, then you might want to be spending your time outside of work with someone else.

It’s even gloomy red — like the devil. Photo by Thibault Penin on Unsplash

There is always the easy way out.

I call it “Netflix by default”.

For many people I know, their day looks like this: they wake up, go to work, have lunch at their desk, keep working, and when they get out of work, they go home, eat, and watch Netflix.

That’s their default scenario. If something else comes up, then they might leave the house, or join their friends, but the default is Netflix.

Who can blame them? The content on Netflix is great. Binge-watching series is fun. I’m totally on board with that.

It’s just so easy. And that’s precisely the problem.

Going out with people, meeting new people, building and fostering proper relationships is hard and uncomfortable. Sitting on the couch and watching Casa de Papel is easy and comfy.

Since we have the easy way out, an easy way of distracting ourselves, we don’t get bored out of our minds anymore — which may have previously prompted us to leave the house and interact with others.

Next time you’re feeling lonely, think about it: would you feel more lonely if you were hanging out with friends, attending events or going on dates, or sitting on the couch watching the newest episodes of Game of Thrones?

Having a hobby is becoming rarer and rarer.

What are friends? They’re people that you’ve shared a meaningful part of your life with. This could have been elementary school, or university, or work. But many of the people you build a friendship with you meet in your leisure activities.

When I moved to Frankfurt three years ago, I worked a lot. But fortunately, I also joined the local Lacrosse team. Three years later, I spend most of my free time with my teammates. We practice three times a week, so we see each other often. But still, we hang out after practice in the locker room, drinking beers. And still, I have lunch with guys from my team twice a week. And still, we meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays or weekends to hang out and do cool stuff, non-lacrosse related.

That’s my hobby, and that’s how I find my friends.

The people I spend approximately 99% of my free time with.

I am also in the fortunate situation to be able to set my own working hours. Not everyone can do that. Looking at my management consultant friends, for them it’s almost impossible to maintain a hobby. They work 10–14 hour days, and barely have any time to eat, sleep, and exercise — let alone to have a hobby. On weekends, they’re worn out from the week (understandably so!), so they just kind of relax, stay at home, maybe hang out with their significant others whom they haven’t seen all week.

If you’re working all day, and staying at home all weekend — how the hell are you supposed to make friends, to meet friends, to foster meaningful relationships outside of work?

Almost impossible. But you don’t necessarily have to work a lot to not have a hobby. Many others simply watch more Netflix, or go to the gym, or simply relax. Those aren’t hobbies. That’s maintenance work. And it’s not gonna get you friends.

At our company, we hire a lot of people from outside of Germany. They move to Frankfurt, and we try to have an eye on the fact that they integrate well here. And the people who are integrated the best are the ones who have found a hobby here: whether it is AcroYoga, doing weekly bootcamp workouts, singing in a choir, being involved in a local charity, playing volleyball or doing kick-boxing — all of them are integrated well.

I believe “finding a hobby” would be a great New Year’s Resolution for many people out there. Try it. Try something new. Even if you have one already. I learned about the concept of “speech clubs” yesterday, and I’d be very keen to give it a try.

Humans aren’t meant to be lonely. It is quite detrimental for your health, actually.

The good news is: there is a way out. Interact with the people you meet, on the street, at the grocery store, in your office. Open yourself up and show your true, beautiful self. Leave your comfort zone of the couch and don’t just “Netflix by default”. And find something you’re passionate about that you can share with other people.

Enjoy life the way it is meant to be enjoyed: with others.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here are three actionable steps to get started right now.

  • Call someone that means a lot to you right now. Could be your grandma, a good friend from school or university, or someone that you’ve met recently but never gotten around to chat with. Ideally it is someone that you haven’t talked to in a while. Call them, and make plans to see each other again.
  • Tomorrow, have a conversation with a stranger. It doesn’t need to be long; it just needs to be genuine. Good entry points are talking to a cashier, a homeless person, someone on public transport.
  • And the next time you get coffee at the office or co-working space, initiate a conversation with someone you haven’t talked to previously.

You will discover that by simply putting yourself out there, showing your genuine self and leaving your comfort zone, the loneliness will go away. Chip away at it one day at a time.

For more insights into the adult life and how you can become a more effective person, simply subscribe to my newsletter here.

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