As social animals we have survived because we used to form bonds and be members of tribes. Several interesting studies show that we are wired to be social on such a deep level that social isolation is actually processed similarly to physical pain by our mind. Plenty of research shows that loneliness is bad for our health and well-being, indeed, loneliness seems to be as big of a risk for mortality as other well-established conditions (e.g. obesity; heavy smoking).
Given such evidence, the notion of humans ‘being social animals’ seems to be as relevant as before. Yet, doesn’t our modern lifestyle pretend otherwise? What is the impact of globalization? Isn’t global mobility and constant uprooting contradicting our human need to create bonds and belong?
Echoing the fairly common notion of loneliness being a modern-day epidemic, I believe that in a certain way it indeed does. In the developed countries, modern workplaces celebrate mobility: international experience is valued, ‘are you willing to relocate’ has become a typical job interview question, global mindset is highly sought after, and multiculturalism is something that management teams strive for. As such, we are experiencing more relocations, where we travel to other people and others travel to us, and we end up having a greater variety of contacts with different people, yet less (and maybe less intense) contact with the familiar ones. Moreover, the way we work also changes. Telecommuting with distant colleagues replaces face-to-face coffee time with long-term office desk-neighbors, and we might generally see our colleagues less, because work arrangements are increasingly flexible and many can work from home. Indeed, one of the drawbacks of telecommuting is that it produces a feeling of isolation. And expatriation has been linked to the same notion.
Globalization, in its romanticized view, is also about borderless opportunities. As discussed in one of my previous posts, a mobile lifestyle can become an addiction, when one constantly strives for new experiences and opportunities. Such striving implies freedom, and freedom implies minimal attachments and stability. Isn’t such a lifestyle ‘from hub to hub, with nothing, with nobody?’—the way it is described in the ‘Up in the Air’ movie—the very essence of isolation and loneliness?
As such, yes, the modern lifestyle with its globalization trends seems to move away from our tribal traditions of putting down roots towards more of an uprooting philosophy. On our birthday we are much more likely nowadays to receive several cross-border calls and messages from our loved ones, than manage to get all of them around the birthday dinner table. Yet, this fact does not necessarily mean we should feel lonely. Contrary to this myth, loneliness is not about being alone, it is rather about not feeling close to anyone. As Kira Asatryan, a relationship coach and author of ‘Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships’, puts it we feel lonely when we crave for feeling of being understood and valued, hence being close to someone. Kira explains that essential qualities of closeness are ‘knowing’ (understanding the person from his or her own perspective/being understood this way) and ‘caring’ (communicating that the other matters to you/is being cared for). Hence, it is not about the quantity of people around you, but rather about the quality of the little relationships you might have. As such, as long as we manage to keep a few important relationships to provide the necessary ‘closeness’, we should be fine even with frequent relocations, a lack of office desk-neighbors and skype-based birthday parties. After all, there are quite a few benefits to global mobility that are worth the effort.