Growing up, my parents led very active social lives. They went out on weekends with their friends, got involved with charities, enrolled in continuing education classes and volunteered for causes they believed in. I have watched my parents’ generation age and have learned so much from their example.
Although some-including my mom-have passed away, the survivors remain connected. Now in their 70s and 80s, many of these seniors still exercise, attend church or synagogue, keep up with world events and make time for their friends. This older generation is blessed with a rich circle of friendships and activities that sustain them.
By nature, humans are social creatures. Historically, people have relied upon alliances with each other in order to survive. By living in tight communities, people were able to pool together resources and divide labor. Older members of the community passed on their wisdom to the children while the more able-bodied supported the community by fishing, hunting, preparing food and maintaining the living quarters. Isolation was out of the question. Everyone lived closely together and all human events were celebrated as a community.
Modern day society is quite different. Today, we live in single-family dwellings, commute to work and spend our time shuttling our children to various social and athletic obligations. Instead of spending time together, we text entire conversations on cell phones, play games and read books on iPads and sit in front of the television for entertainment. We can even shop online and have our groceries delivered to our front door! The distraction and convenience of technology has fostered an escape from face-to-face activities with other people. We end up spending much more time alone.
According to the Institute of Medicine, more Americans are being treated for depression and other mental disorders than ever before. Social isolation and a lack of connectedness can make us more vulnerable to depression. While social isolation is not the only determinant in the cause of depression, prescribing social connectedness is an important part of a wellness plan that may also include therapy and/or medication.
Social connectedness does not have to be on a formal scale. You don’t have to join associations, clubs or religious affiliations to stay connected. Informal connections are as close as the phone or the next door neighbor. Calling a friend, inviting guests over for dinner, volunteering and making an effort to connect with others can reduce the sense of isolation many Americans experience.
If you are old enough, you may remember AT&T’s ad campaign during the 1980s with the tag line “Reach out and touch someone.” The commercial presented images of everyday relationships that still ring true today. By reaching out and touching someone, we can connect with others on a mental and emotional level that inevitably helps us stay connected with ourselves.