It was not that many years ago that our family of seven would gather around a table at a restaurant where we laughed, visited, poked fun at one another and genuinely had a great time enjoying each other and our oddities. Recently I purposely looked around while my wife and I were in a restaurant and witnessed nearly every table — be it family, friends or couples — with their heads down peering into a device, thumbs a blazing. Alone together?
In his new book, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse observes “The same technology that has liberated us from so much inconvenience and drudgery has also unmoored us from the things that anchor our identity.”
I am struck by how much I relate to the findings and analysis in his book. While he declares, “We’re literally dying of despair,” I believe there are hopeful solutions.
In almost everything I do, say or write, I have the rising generation in the forefront of my mind and heart. However, this idea that loneliness and despair are killing us hits all generations square on.
I am fortunate to live in a pretty nice area of the world, in a very comfortable home, surrounded by many good people and have a loving family. Truth be known, many in my neighborhood, including my wife and I, find that loneliness is too often our companion. There are always activities to partake in, but so much of these just crack the surface and don’t really provide relationships that take the husks off the corn. Loneliness, of course, leads to anxiety and depression or a combination thereof. Its causes can be triggered by a variety of events or changes in life’s circumstances.
Contemplating these truths, the recent invitation from President Russell M. Nelson for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to partake in a social media fast for a week or so, is more than timely and ironic. It is a part of a cure to the despair that ails us. Unmooring us from social media addiction (whether you admit to being owned by the digital world or not) actually does move us dramatically closer to discovering our true identity, and this discovery is key to not dying of despair.
Contributing to this social media conundrum and the current state of our loneliness is the inability to find meaning in one’s life. So many factors contribute to loneliness, and much of it has rolled upon us like a silent tsunami. Perhaps, like a tsunami, it was caused by the breaking of the earth far below the surface; but the effects, now in play, cannot be avoided. The underlying movements that cause despair are varied and many.
Walking from the dark halls of loneliness and despair into hope and sunlight, we are challenged with opposition from the highly digital world that has engulfed us. And yet, there are simple yet practical solutions to move toward hope and joy. Meditate upon the following few items and contemplate whether in your life they represent underlying movements that are causing tsunamis of despair and loneliness. Recognizing these movements may help us avoid the waves that are coming, or at least take us to higher ground.
1. Detach and get off the hamster wheel. No matter your affiliation, try taking a social media fast — to whatever extent you can — and see if this helps focus the mind and settle the soul. I suggest it will give you a fresh set of eyes from which to view yourself and the world you live in.
2. Focus on meaningful relationships, especially family. With deep relationships reduced to about two in a lifetime (down from about four), try to sincerely expand your horizons and allow folks into your inner-circle of trust. What can it hurt? So many times, the term “ghosting” is used to write people off that have in any way crossed your way of thinking, even if they are family. Instead of “ghosting,” try “hosting” their viewpoint and see if there is not more in common to celebrate than focusing on the differences.
3. Discover callings in your life that bless the lives of others. Finding purpose in life is the absolute best remedy for loneliness. A calling is a passion you have personally adopted or feel called to. It can represent many things, but it always involves blessing the lives of others. The key to this calling is passion. If you love the cause, you will love the time you devote to it.
4. Discover your true identity. This will shape your view of the world in a way that allows hope to rise above despair and loneliness. Find the divinity within you and see how knowing deeply who you are changes everything.Comment on this story
The world has changed dramatically. We can also change in ways that will allow us to connect with family, friends and the world in more personal and holistic ways. Hugs are better than “likes,” and building relationships face-to-face are more significant than an electronic friend. Figuring out how to settle the deep underlying movements will bring us peace and reduce our despair and loneliness. Since there is not a living soul untouched by loneliness and despair, perhaps we can all accept the challenge of moving to safe harbor, to become moored to a life of purpose.