I wandered lonely as a cloud…

I actually quite like being on my own.

Just being able to sit quietly and mindfully observe what’s going on around me.

But I really like being around people as well, having that social interaction.

Today I saw a social media post from a woman wanting to make friends in the community.

Coincidentally, I also read an interesting article* that says we have a new, number-one public health issue.

Social isolation.

According to psychologist Hugh Mackay, we are now experiencing loneliness, anxiety and depression in epidemic proportions.

He says humans are like herd animals:

“We need each other… to nurture and sustain us, and give us that all-important sense of belonging that is so fundamental to the mental and emotional health of members of a social species.”

Holding hands
Social connection and sense of belonging

It was something that also came up on MasterChef Australia this week.

One of the contestants talked about how being born in Australia, but having a strong connection to her Thai heritage, had left her feeling isolated at times, and not really belonging in either culture.

Hugh goes on to criticise our relentless busyness.

Using it as a badge of honour one minute, and an excuse to avoid certain social situations, in the next.

But he’s right, our lives have become busier.

We never, or rarely, ‘switch off’.

During the pandemic we were forced into ‘iso-life’, with lockdowns etc.

But we were so resourceful, and technology came to the rescue!

Meetings and classes – think work, school and exercise sessions, social interactions with family and friends, musical events and choirs, church services, meditation sessions – everything went online.

We became experts on Zoom.

We were so connected.

Except we weren’t.

We were in isolation trying to form connections.

It was hard and we’ll probably never know the full impact this had on so many people.

But it’s left a lasting legacy.

We might feel connected through social media, but we’re not really.

As Hugh puts it:

“It has made it easier than ever in history for us to stay apart from each other and to settle for fewer of those full-on, face-to-face encounters that not only enrich our social connections but also make a huge contribution to our wellbeing – even to our sanity.”

He also points out the heaviest users of social media (young adults aged 18 to 25) also report the highest levels of loneliness.

Unlike in Wordsworth’s poem, when he talks about the ‘bliss of solitude’ when he can reflect on seeing a crowd of golden daffodils, for many people that solitude can be quite damaging.

It was lovely to see the kind responses to the lady’s social media post I mentioned earlier, with offers to meet up for coffee or lunch, along with suggestions of social clubs and group classes.

Maybe we should all make the effort to catch up – in person – a bit more.

Let’s get herding again 🙏

*Sorry I can’t actually share the article because it’s behind a paywall, but it was an extract from the book The Way We Are by Hugh Mackay, Allen & Unwin, out April 30.

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