How Loneliness Became a Concept and What We Can Do About It
Discover the surprisingly recent history of an emotion experienced by many today.
The concept of loneliness is one that took on a new meaning only a few hundred years ago, yet it seems to be so fundamental today.
In this biography, author Alberti takes a look back at how society’s evolution has shaped the concept of loneliness, looking at case studies from literature and social media to Queen Victoria in order to evaluate the modern understanding of this emotion.
What we find is that there is an important distinction between people feeling lonely and the older concept of “oneliness” which existed before 1800.
This book considers whether social media really are to blame for millennials feeling lonely and what else could be contributing to this rise in loneliness today.
It will consider potential solutions to reduce its impact as well as going over misconceptions about the idea of companionship being necessary for happiness.
An Exploration of How Loneliness Has Transformed From a 19th Century Concept to a 21st Century Epidemic
Loneliness may be something that a lot of people experience but it’s surprisingly recent concept.
Although it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the idea of loneliness came into prominence, one example could be The Beatles song “Eleanor Rigby” which came out during the 1960s.
During this decade, big societal changes caused traditional family structures to start shifting away and that was when loneliness, especially amongst the elderly, became more common than ever before.
Fast forward to the present day where discussing loneliness as an “epidemic” is common speak.
According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), lonely people are likely to die 30% earlier due to conditions such as depression, dementia and even strokes, making loneliness a very serious consequence of our ever changing society today.
Moreover, linguistically speaking, loneliness has no opposite and it isn’t synonymous with just being alone because there’s also potential for an emotional lack due to it.
Factoring all this in together, we can see why loneliness has become so problematic in contemporary times – but what might be even more shocking is that despite its prominence, defining this emotion still remains a challenging thing to do.
The Rise of Loneliness: A Shift in Values Leads to a Rise in Isolation
The word “lonely” has shifted in meaning over the past two centuries due to changing societal values.
In the sixteenth century, the term meant being sad because of a lack of company or referring to a remote place.
However, before the nineteenth century only the latter was commonly used.
It wasn’t until that time that “loneliness” became more widely used.
This change reflects how people perceive loneliness in different ways today compared to past eras.
Nowadays, we generally consider loneliness as having a negative connotation whereas before it wasn’t necessarily seen this way.
In earlier periods, being on one’s own didn’t just have the potential for sadness but also for spiritual exaltation in God’s presence – “oneliness.” Thus, solitude was often viewed as a positive experience and an act of piety towards God.
As society has evolved so too has our interpretation of what it means to be lonely and without connection with others.
With increased individualism and declining religious influence people increasingly define themselves on their social relationships instead of their relationship with God.
This further increases feelings of isolation as they become aware exactly how alone they are rather than being comforted by faith or community support.
The rise in secularism and far greater number of people living alone are often pointed to explain why loneliness is now seen such strong negative emotion, causing us great psychological stress.
Rethinking the Idea of Soulmates: Exploring the Unhealthy Pressure to Find Our Other Half
The idea of the soulmate has been around for centuries, and it’s still as seductive – and dangerous – as ever.
After first being mentioned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822, this concept has become part of popular culture, showing up in literature, film, and television.
One iconic example is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (published in 1847), in which Heathcliff laments: “I cannot live without my life!
I cannot live without my soul!” This line sums up the intensity of the needy search for our ideal half.
A more recent example is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series (2005-2008) wherein a young girl risks her very life to be with her vampire other half.
The concept of finding one’s soulmate – someone we are supposedly ‘meant’ to be with to complete ourselves – still exists today, albeit now steeped in an undertone of toxicity driven by modern romantic notions.
More often than not, society pushes us towards thinking that unless we find our ‘ideal partner’ there will always be an innate loneliness inside of us.
But surely this isn’t true? Must we really need another person to feel fulfilled and content in life?
How Loss has Shaped Our Understanding of Loneliness Through Time
Losing a partner is a profoundly affecting experience that can leave people feeling lonely and disconnected from their former life.
Before the modern concept of loneliness was developed, widows and widowers often sought solace in their faith, or found strength to weather their grief alone.
As a case in point, Thomas Turner’s heartbreaking diary entries after his first wife Peggy died in 1761 show that he perceived his own solitude as a kind of communion with God.
In contrast, Queen Victoria’s excessive mourning rituals 40 years later suggest how the concept of loneliness had shifted by this point.
By obsessively keeping her late husband’s clothes laid out each day and sleeping with his shirt on, she articulated her profound sense of loss—a tell-tale sign of contemporary loneliness.
Today, bereaved loved ones find comfort not only through their faith but also through their wider network of friends, family and support groups—allowing them to confront the grief that comes with losing a partner in a more well-rounded way than before.
It’s clear then that while losing a partner is always difficult, it only becomes truly “lonely” in our modern times.
Is Social Media Causing Millennial Loneliness, or Could It Help Combat It?
It’s often assumed that social media use is the cause of millennial loneliness, but the reality is more nuanced.
Studies suggest that while social media might play its part in heightening feelings of loneliness, this only really happens when online activity replaces offline activities.
The problem isn’t necessarily the phone itself, or even who you communicate with online – it’s really about how much time you spend on it instead of engaging in real-life activities.
But when used responsibly, social media can actually bring people together and reduce levels of loneliness, not just among millennials but across all age groups.
In fact, research has shown that if usage is supplemented by an adequate amount of offline activities and interaction between users, it can be beneficial to mental wellbeing rather than the other way around.
Social media doesn’t have to be a bad thing – how we use it is what’s important.
We Need to Stop Pathologizing Old Age and Find New Ways to Meet the Needs of Our Elderly Population
Remaining socially connected in old age should not be an impossibly difficult thing, yet loneliness is a real and growing issue among the elderly.
Recent research shows that while only 5-16% of younger people feel lonely, this number shoots up to an astounding 50% for those aged 80 or older.
In order to address the problem of lonliness it is important to understand the concept of “unmet need”, which refers to inadequate care solutions available for the elderly in modern society.
However, taking into consideration that our Western societies focus heavily on economic productivity and tend to neglect elderly people who can no longer work makes it easy to fall into the belief that they are useless.
Rather than succumb to this narrative we should strive for better solutions for meeting the needs of elderly people struggling with loneliness.
Care homes may provide a space where more social interaction is possible, but this isn’t necessarily enough to prevent elderly people from feeling isolated and judged by society’s standards.
To really make sure their needs are met we must challenge these prejudices and look towards innovative ways together that help boost their well-being.
The Complex Reality of Loneliness: Why Shopping Won’t Fix It
No two people experience loneliness in the same way.
This is an important point to bear in mind when thinking about this issue, as it highlights the breadth of experiences and emotions wrapped up within it.
Many different kinds of people can be affected by loneliness, from all walks of life, at all stages -not just one specific group or demographic.
Furthermore, there are different cultural connotations attached to being single for men and women that create gender disparities when it comes to solitude.
For example: the term “Spinster” has a very different connotation than its male counterpart “Bachelor” which furthers the idea that loneliness can be experienced in diversely gendered ways.
It’s also important to note that loneliness is a physical as well as psychological feeling – neuroscientists John Cacioppo and Patrick William likened it to hunger due to its physical effects on us.
Moreover, some research suggests that retail therapy – or purchasing more items when we feel lonely – does not actually help in easing these feelings.
Objects may even end up isolating us more, making us feel nostalgic or upset about things from our past instead of bringing solace in our present-day state of loneliness.
Nevertheless, some have chosen the path of voluntary solitude for good reason – creating works of art or literature for example – where those experiencing involuntary isolation lack this sort of privilege .
It’s essential not to romanticize this form of perceived ‘positive’ loneliness; chronic forms affect many more people than those with access to such luxuries seek out forcibly.
In conclusion: despite being such an emotionally charged feeling; Loneliness is experienced by diverse people, and in diverse ways – not all of them negative.
How Social and Political Changes of the Last 200 Years Have Contributed to Our Increased Sense of Loneliness
Loneliness has become an all-too common experience in our modern world, and it is something we need to address.
We cannot afford to keep viewing loneliness as an epidemic that can’t be avoided- rather we need to consider how the condition of loneliness has been caused by many of the changes that we have seen in the last 200 years or so.
From Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest to the rise of neoliberalism, policies, outlooks and economic standings have had a huge influence on how people perceive loneliness today.
By favoring free-markets and competition, these forces have lead to privatization, deregulation and an unhealthy focus on individualism which often leaves those most in need without support.
To tackle this issue, not only do we need better social care provision, but also a shift in mindset.
Rather than simply accepting it as something inevitable and biologically rooted in us, let’s remember that loneliness is a modern phenomenon that has appeared relatively recently – one whose roots are firmly planted within our increasingly individualistic society.
In A Biography of Loneliness, the author’s main message is that loneliness isn’t just a universal concept as we tend to believe.
It’s actually something that has been shaped by our modern age and has multiple complex layers.
Rather than grieving its symptoms among different people including widowers or those who are highly addicted to modern technology, we should strive to reconstruct a better understanding of it within the historical context.
To summarise what has been said so far: Loneliness means profoundly feeling empty; it’s not something caused only by old age or online habits – but the combination of various factors from history, leading up to its current position.
Therefore, instead of simply shrugging it away as something inevitable, this book challenges us to think about how to reduce loneliness in today’s world in a more meaningful way.