Sunday, June 24, 2018

Loneliness, and Investment in not being lonely

What is the problem?
With 3 celebrity suicides, the world is currently focusing on depression, mental health and allied issues. But long before these happened, I have also seen loneliness become almost an epidemic.
And I have been thinking deeply about it. Where does it begin? How do we get lonely in a world full of people?

It is, I think, basically this - deep connections are hard work. They need a lot of repair and revival. They need a lot of conscious effort. But they are not necessary on a day to day basis. On a day to day basis, shallow 'positive strokes' that come from other places - office, for instance, or buddy lunches, or conferences and events, are quite enough. We only realise that we are lonely after a few years. But by then, it is too late. We are not able to trace the cause back to fundamental absence of deep human connect. And then begins the downward spiral into depression.

The picture above is the first part of a sketch note. I wondered why, on a day to day basis, we find more gratification in our offices than in our homes. All of us know that in office, we are just cogs in a wheel, but at home, we are the centres of an entire universe. Yet, across gender, age and level, most people find more gratification in office interactions than in family ones.

Why does it happen?

After thinking a lot, I could isolate 3 major reasons:

A. Instant Gratification / Minor Appreciations - Finish a report? You get a micro compliment. Helped a colleague? A minor positive stroke is immediate. There are tonnes of instant gratification moments in a work day. These include everything from the smile of the tea boy to appreciation from a senior.

B. Sense of tangible achievement: Everything from the annual PMS to minor tasks that are "Complete" - give a sense of accomplishment. No such luck at home. Leaky pipes, faulty switches, dirty dishes give no sense of tangible achievement.

C. Novelty and Variety:  A family has perhaps 10 stakeholders - including the gardener and the milk vendor. The office, by contrast, offers twice that number at least. Further, there are groups and sub groups, and an opportunity to do gossip. There is variety of both stakeholders and interactions.

Suppose I want to change that. What can I do?

A. Instant Gratification: "Good Morning" , "This is good" - common courtesies and small compliments(aka Positive strokes) that are so basic to office behavior need to be re-introduced to the house. With positive strokes, instant gratification will return to our lives.

B. Sense of Tangible Achievement: 2 ways -
1. Create goals as a family  and track their progress. "We will take a foreign holiday next year.", "I will score above 80 in science this year end." , "I will lose 10 kilos of weight." And needless to add, in tracking those goals, build each other, don't run each other down. Don't laugh at failures, and don't equate the failure of the initiative with the person.

2. Simple, but powerful - play games as a family. Don't underestimate the power of winning and the lessons of losing.

C. Experiences: This can be done in 2 ways -

1. Widen your social network - grandmother's friend, the neighbour, wife's childhood buddy - open your heart and calendar to get to know the social circle of all family members, widening your own horizon in the process.

2. Share experiences that anyone in the family likes. One person likes adventure holidays, all of us go. Another likes the hills, all of us go. Wider social networks and more varied shared experiences will provide the variety that is the spice of life. Of course, when you see the happiness on their face, that will make it all worthwhile too. 

And finally, here is the complete sketch note. It took me weeks to think this up and a whole day to make (yeah I am kind of slow that way)

Dealing with loneliness with the help of families


Vandana Sharma said...

ypu have really delved deeper onto the issue and the points you have mentioned to tackle it re very good. Indeed as a family we should help out our loved ones.

Z said...

In this country, I think that losing our social network is very easy at present. We're all so busy with work and everyday life that people tend to be too tired to see friends and less likely to visit elderly neighbours or people who live alone. Few of us have a sense of community any more. You're right about families too - we can take our nearest and dearest for granted and not think we need to make the effort that we do with strangers or colleagues, but it really does matter.

How do we know said...

Vandana ji: Thank you. I am deeply pained by this entire epidemic. So yes, I have been thinking a lot. There is also an earlier post where I wrote about parents who took their child for counselling. That incident was also very sad.

Hey Z: Yes. That is why I LOVE your blog. Simple, everyday living that is so rare today. Here in India, it is the nuclear families that are breaking down at an alarming rate. The consequences - the affairs, childhood abuse, divorce rates, depression et al, are all well documented. But it is the basic building block that is falling apart. All families are messy. The bigger they are, the more messy they become. But what is happening now is alarming even for us.

How do we know said...

Z: And of course, the sense of community .. in a city, it is so fragile..

How do we know said...

Thank you for taking the time to write.. both of you.