One is the Loneliest Number

I don’t know how these things come to my attention. It doesn’t matter, really. Somehow I came across a report from National Public Radio about a research study conducted by Cigna that indicates that Americans are extremely lonely, and furthermore, that young people – the so-called Generation Z – are the loneliest of us all.

Apparently the president and CEO of Cigna was shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – that these young people (you know, the ones who stare at their cell phones for literally hours out of each day) – say they always feel alone or left out, or at least do sometimes.

First of all, I want to state unequivocally that I am not making light of loneliness. Profound loneliness leads to all sort of mental and physical health issues, not the least being suicide. I simply think that if we start measuring loneliness by including people who say they sometimes feel lonely, we are short-changing those who actually experience serious loneliness.

Having said this, I will also tell you that I sometimes feel lonely. Right now, even as I write this post, Bill and his best friend are out in our back yard flying their drones. Seriously, the buzzing is so loud that I’m expecting either a swarm of bees to come check it out, or the police to screech up to our door where they will find two senior citizens looking up to the sky at their drones, having a blast and not feeling lonely. In the meantime, I am here in the house feeling left out of the fun because I don’t have a drone. Take that, Mr. Cigna CEO. I’m feeling lonely.

Using the UCLA Loneliness Scale – and I can’t believe I get astonished that there are such things as loneliness scales, the bill for which is likely footed by unbelievably high tuition payments from a bunch of really lonely UCLA students – it was determined that 54 percent of us sometimes feel no one really knows us. Furthermore, 56 percent of us sometimes feel like people are around us, but not necessarily with us.  Two out of five of us sometimes feel isolated from others and that our relationships aren’t meaningful.

Quite frankly, given that they are using the word “sometimes”, I’m shocked that the number isn’t closer to 95 percent. Are there really people who can say they never feel like someone wasn’t paying attention to them. Those that claim absolutely no loneliness never had a teenager. And speaking of teenagers, apparently Generation Z-ers (born between the mid 1990s and the early 2000s) are the loneliest of the lot, followed closely by millennials (who are just a bit older).

The article goes on to cite another study conducted by San Diego State University on loneliness that indicates that the more time spent looking at some kind of screen, the lonelier you are. People with more face-to-face interaction (you know, with people) are likely to be less lonely. Again, I hope the students who attend San Diego State University don’t mind paying for studies with results that could have been predicted by a few 5-year-olds playing tag on the playground. Playing together and not feeling lonely.

I don’t hate technology. Heck, I write a blog every day, using technology I don’t even understand. But it never fails to surprise me – astound me, really – when I look around a restaurant and see two people sitting at a table, each looking at their phones. Or, even worse, one looking at his or her phone and the other staring off into the distance, likely feeling lonely.

I’m pretty sure if some sociology Ph.D. students could round up enough money to finance research on boredom, they would find that most of us sometimes feel bored as well as lonely.

My takeaway from reading the article is that we should all buy drones and spend lovely spring afternoons flying them with our best friends. Oh, and that if we SOMETIMES feel some sort of anything, don’t mention it if you are participating in a research study. They take it very seriously.