Everyone I know is in a perpetual state of ‘busyness,’ their schedules stretched to capacity with stress levels high. I find that technology can undermine good intentions–becoming yet another layer of noise to break through. And although I long to make genuine connections with the world at large, sometimes I lack the energy. As you might expect, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Brandan Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, concluded his original web series with an episode of Connection, or rather the lack thereof. Over the course of the video, he interviewed a handful of New Yorkers all of whom feel disconnected from our bustling city of over 8.6 million. In reviewing the comments to this particular post, responses were widely disparate. Many a commenter offered to support and connect directly with folks in the video, while some questioned society’s lack of empathy toward strangers and what could be done to shift away from this kind of thinking. Fear, doubt, and selfishness were among the emotions listed as hindrances. And one commenter from Ohio suggested this inability to connect might be a direct result of self-absorption: “There are over 8 billion people in this world, and the fact that even 1 of us is lonely speaks to how selfish a species we’ve become.”
There are studies that prove loneliness is real, and this is especially so among the elder (75+) population, where it can impact not only their emotional but physical well-being. Fortunately, there are organizations that support senior care here in the US and abroad. Befriending Networks is based in the UK and provides support through an online directory that connects volunteer befrienders to anyone who feels socially isolated.
Closer to home
Sometimes I have to challenge myself to get out of the house. That may be surprising to those of you who know me personally. What you might not realize is that in following my dreams to become a freelance writer, I’ve also forsaken the sociability of a working office. Solopreneurship has its perks, but the luxury of a co-working space isn’t one of them. As a result, I’ve had to make personal adjustments to combat feelings of isolation. One of the catch-22s of loneliness, especially in the fiercely independent, is an admission of vulnerability. The next steps after that tend to be a lot easier.
I engage in mindful activities like yoga and meditation, volunteer with local NYC charities, and spend time with friends. I opt for enriching experiences over dinner and drinks and more often, I make gestures of gratitude. It can be as simple as a smile between strangers or expressing thanks to someone who has been kind or generous with their time. It can be as audacious as sending flowers to a loved one without cause. And I also actively offer the same level of compassion to myself as I do to others, pausing to reflect on all the things I’ve accomplished in the past year, the friends I’ve made along the way, the experiences I’ve had.
Pick up your pen
One of my favorite ways to give gratitude is through letter writing. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as uncapping a Papermate felt pen and scribbling a heartfelt message on a fresh piece of stationery. I live with intention, one part set on the future (modern) with the other mindfully aware of the past (vintage), and I have found the greatest joy in sending a handwritten (ink) note to friends and colleagues; it’s equally gratifying when someone returns the favor.
Last year, I stumbled upon a TED Talk from Hannah Brencher, the founder of More Love Letters. Her story about building connections through words resonated with me on a higher level. You see, I, too, had a mom who loved to write letters. On December 4, Brencher and her team of scribblers will kickoff The World Needs More Love Letters, a 12-day letter-writing holiday campaign. I plan to enlist my help to send handwritten notes of encouragement to strangers around the world, and perhaps you’ll consider picking up a pen (or pencil) to do the same.
What gestures of gratitude have you shared with the world? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.