Now that we are starting to come out of COVID-19 hibernation, many people will be looking for more meaningful connections with others.
This is partly because we have been isolated for some time, but it is also because loneliness is generally a massive and ongoing problem in wealthy, first world countries around the world.
This is probably because, in these developed countries, people generally don’t work, live and socialise within the one small community anymore.
While there are many advantages to these more ‘fluid’ arrangements (like bigger and sometimes more far-reaching ideas) there are also some significant drawbacks.
For example, when we only see people in certain contexts, we often lack information about the ‘whole’ person which can impoverish those connections. This can be exacerbated by online connections where there is even less information available.
This paucity of rich connections encourages a lack of empathy. We are inclined to imagine that what we cannot ‘see’ in others is either much better or much worse than ourselves. Either scenario makes us feel alienated from other people as ‘whole’ human beings.
So much so, that people tend to visit psychologists when they are lonely (thinking the alienation is somehow their fault) – which it is not!
There are nonetheless lots of things that people can do for themselves when they feel lonely and alienated that are likely to help them more than clinical sessions with a psychologist.
One of the best ways to reduce loneliness is for people to join community groups so they can create at least some relationships that are more embedded and ‘whole’ in their everyday lives.
For example, some people find it great to start inviting several households of neighbours around 1-2 times a year for casual drinks and nibbles while catching up about local issues like bins, house prices and parking.
This almost instantly has the effect of increasing casual street conversations thereafter and making everyone in the street feel much more connected.
Others simply join (or form their own) local interest groups like gardening, reading, choirs, bushwalking, tennis, music, chess, film, running, dancing, cooking, orienteering, art appreciation, environmental or community service clubs.
In these types of ‘instrumental’ groups people are free to engage in the activity in a relaxed and uninhibited way as the focus of the conversation is mainly on the chosen activity. However, over time people are inclined to get to know one another warts and all, which is excellent for more depth of connection.
Mostly, these groups also allow for both vigorous participation and more casual participation – which is good for flexibility. People can stay embedded even when they are busy at times and need to miss some of the get-togethers.
Also, because people in these ‘instrumental’ groups are often working towards achieving common goals, they feel even more aligned and embedded with one another as they collaboratively strive towards a specific outcome.
As a result, people can often derive more empathic, less superficial and more meaningful and directed relationships while having a great deal of fun at the same time.