Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.
When you think of health epidemics, what are some things that come to mind? Ebola, swine flu, maybe obesity or smoking tobacco. But there’s a growing epidemic that’s easy to overlook and has been largely ignored over the years. It’s loneliness. Weak social connections and alienation are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Rates of loneliness have actually doubled since the 1980s, which is especially ironic considering the hundreds of advancements we’ve made technologically with social media. Facebook and Instagram were initially created to increase connection between friends, but it often leaves people feeling more left out and isolated than ever before. We can try to combat isolation in small ways, but, to truly solve loneliness requires the engagement of institutions where people spend the bulk of their time. This includes families, schools, social organizations, and the workplace.
Discovering your sense belonging can help you overcome
loneliness. But, what does it mean to truly belong anyway?
Brené Brown is a social scientist, bestselling author, and research professor. You may know her by being the 4th most viewed TED Talk speaker ever. She recently released her latest book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. It challenges everything we think we know about cultivating true belonging in our communities, organizations, and culture. Brown essentially tells us that, based on her extensive research, she found that people “who have the deepest sense of true belonging are people who also have the courage to stand alone when called to do that. They are willing to maintain their integrity and risk disconnection in order to stand up for what they believe in.” This surprised her at first. Brown thought belonging was something people externally negotiated with the groups they seek to belong to. But, belonging isn’t actually about “fitting in”— it’s about showing up for who you truly are.
Belonging in the workplace: companies have
the power to address the loneliness quickly.
We spend more hours a week with our coworkers than we do with our friends and family. But, do they truly know what we care about? Our pains, our values, our personal experiences that have shaped us? Real connection requires creating an environment that embraces the unique identities and experiences of employees inside and outside the workplace. Think of all the individual experiences you’ve undergone that have made you into the unique human you are. Imagine how your perspective on someone would change if you knew those compelling pieces of their life. It’s not about learning every little fact about someone, but creating a workplace environment in which story-sharing is encouraged and everyone feels heard and valued.