Don’t think that lonely people are just those who are elderly, living alone, out of the workforce and without friends.
"That’s just not true," says Pat Love, author of Never Be Lonely Again: The Way Out of Emptiness, Isolation and a Life Unfilled. "The elderly are a lot less lonely than many young people and those of middle age. In fact, the greatest group of people who are lonely are in their 40s and 50s. And an increasing number of young people are lonely."
Another misconception is that people who live alone are lonely, says Love in a video presentation that sheds light on which segments of people are lonely and offers guidance for a path to connection with others.
"A lot of people who live alone really like living alone, and they get energy from the solitude," she says. That allows them to use their energy and talents when they go out and are with other people.
Living with another person, even in marriage or a long-term relationship, does not rule out loneliness.
Twenty-nine percent of people who are married say they are lonely," says Love, who is a marriage and family therapist. "In fact, the loneliest night you can ever spend is often lying next to someone you love. Or someone you don’t love."
Loneliness is a "drive" that can be healthy, in the long run, because it motivates us to go out and be with others and accomplish things that we feel are worthwhile, says Love.
Human beings have intelligence and an innate desire to collaborate, to help each other, because, at the most basic level, no one can survive alone. Even just for the necessities like food and shelter, it takes a group to create a community where individuals have the basics of life and can thrive.
Loneliness is a drive that gets you to cooperate and be with people," says Love. "We need each other."
When someone who is lonely goes out and does something meaningful, the loneliness lifts. For instance, if a lonely person takes a walk along the beach, sees a beached whale, calls for help, and gets the whale back in the ocean, that person will feel happy.
A person who is depressed, on the other hand, could take part in the same activity on the beach and not feel happy.
Depression is a state that doesn’t lift easily when those connections with other people take place. That lingering sadness or lack of interest in life is a red flag that the person’s mental state is deeper than loneliness.
It’s very important for someone who is depressed to seek help from a qualified therapist because there are many effective treatments for depression, says Love.
Loneliness is a drive, an urge, for connection. When people use their skills, talents and energy in meaningful connections, the loneliness evaporates.
"If you want a shortcut to offset loneliness, get outside yourself. Help somebody. Make someone’s day," says Love.
Love says she has examined loneliness based on her own experience. She says the loneliest time of her life was when she was married, had two healthy children at home, was surrounded by friends and had no financial worries.
But I was lonely because I didn’t know who I was and I was living someone else’s life," says Love. "I was living a script written by somebody else."
She says it’s important to know your own core values and live them. One of hers, for example, is being loving.
"At the end of every day I should say, ‘Pat, what did you do today that was loving?’ I should have an answer and another answer and another answer."
Understand how you can connect deeply with others and make it happen.
"Surface connections won’t do it. We do that with technology. We get enough 140 character messages in our life. We don’t need any more of those," says Love. "We want those magic moments between two people."
Love, Pat, "Never Be Lonely Again," Interview with Cindie Parrott Brooks, on YouTube, Feb. 7, 2011.
Roth, Irene S., "Book Review: Never Be Lonely Again: The Way Out of Emptiness, Isolation and a Life Unfilled by Pat Love and Jon Carlson," Blog Critics, March 29, 2011.