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  • Writer's pictureCindy Copich

The Epidemic of Loneliness and the Hope for Change

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Since finishing the Yale Science of Wellbeing course in December 2022, I have been reading several follow-up books that align with the topic. An important aspect of happiness and well-being is social connection. A friend recommended this book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness (Waldinger and Schulz, 2023). The book provides a long-term perspective on the benefits of close relationships from The Harvard Study of Adult Development, This longitudinal study has shown “that people who are more connected to family, to friends, and to the community, are happier and physically healthier than people who are less well connected” (pg. 21). They found that individuals who had satisfying relationships at fifty were the healthiest thirty years later, both mentally and physically. That is powerful!

More than sixty million Americans describe being lonely (about one in four people) so clearly we have some work to do. Close and caring relationships provide protection when life is hard, and life IS hard sometimes. You might be wondering, “So, what happens if I am lonely at age 40 or 50? Am I doomed?” The book provides ideas, tools for reflection, and HOPE. Waldinger and Schulz demonstrate through countless stories throughout the book how The Good Life is not something we just wish for “someday.” It is available to us now.

Furthermore, research shows that human beings are bad at predicting what will make us happy- we tend to overestimate the mess of connecting and underestimate the potential benefits of trying to connect with others. Throughout the eighty years of the lives studied in their research, individuals that chose money, achievement, and status were not happier. Wealthier individuals tend to have smaller commutes and better access to healthcare. These factors and others increase the life expectancy of wealthier individuals by more than ten to fifteen years. What good is money if the individual isn’t happy?

This book also addresses the reality- we spend most of our waking lives at work. The authors emphasize how our personal and professional lives are interconnected. “For women, a difficult workday was linked primarily with angrier behavior, and for men, primarily with withdrawing emotionally from a partner” (pg. 232). They suggest that the first step in addressing the “spillover effect” of work stress to home life (or vice versa) is to recognize the feelings and acknowledge them, purposefully sitting with them without judgment. Research also highlights what we all have come to understand more- our relationships at work matter more than just the work we do.

I highly recommend this book. The personal stories of the individuals in the study are inspiring and provide useful life lessons to readers. The authors provide practical guidance and hope for individuals looking to improve their relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances and find a more fulfilling life. Improving relationships requires us to take stock of where we really are (not where we tell ourselves we are) and to make intentional effort to invest in connection with others. Like most things, relationships take work. The authors make a compelling the case that a good life is a life with close human connection and it is never too late to make a change.


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