Sunday, May 5, 2019
We are in an epidemic. No, not the opioid epidemic but a loneliness epidemic. Several recent studies have revealed that nearly half of Americans (46 percent) sometimes or always feel lonely. And the youngest adults among us (18-22 years) are the loneliest group of all.
Why are we so lonely?
There are many factors, but here are a few that I think are contributing to making us lonelier than ever.
The first thing is cell phones. Several years ago, my youngest son had a job interview in State College, and I tagged along to spend the afternoon walking the campus and enjoying the fall leaves while he went on the interview. Afterward, I met him on College Avenue, which separates the business district from the Penn State campus. A stone wall runs along the campus side. As we walked past the wall to our car, I noticed that there must have been 40 students sitting on the wall waiting for the university bus and every single one of them was either wearing headphones or was bent over engrossed in a cell phone. No one was talking. It’s no wonder then that another study released last month showed that 51 percent of young Americans are single or don’t have a romantic partner—more than any other time.
Another reason I believe is because of changing family life. I was one of four children, and I slept in a double bed with my sister until I left home to get married. Yeah, we often brawled over who was hogging the covers, but we weren’t lonely! Today, families are having fewer children, and the ones that do believe each child must have their own room. Also, I heard someone give a talk on loneliness recently, and he observed how today it is the norm for people to grow up and move away from their family. He said that throughout history, people tended to settle around their family because it provided support and security, only leaving for dire circumstances such as war or poverty. It’s only been during the last few decades that people willingly move away from the people who know them, love them and care about them to live where no one knows them, loves them or cares about them. And then we wonder why we’re lonely!
I’m sure there are other reasons for the loneliness epidemic from the decline in religious affiliations to our fractured culture, but in the interest of space, here is my final reason. We are too busy to connect with others. In 2000, Robert D. Putnam wrote the book Bowling Alone, which detailed the collapse of our communities. The title derives from the fact that during the first-half of the last century, most people belonged to a bowling league, and now, no one does. But it’s not just bowling; all types of social groups have suffered too as well as civic organizations. Even the frequency of family dinners has declined tremendously. And Putnam gives one startling trend from his research to illustrate how our frenzied lives are isolating us. He observed that for every ten minutes a person commutes, all forms of their social interaction are reduced by 10 percent.
It’s hard to buck trends, but maybe if we become miserable enough in our loneliness, we will make some changes and, once again, begin to reach out to others. If you are looking to connect, put down the phone, volunteer, join a church or synagogue, host a family dinner, start a book club or maybe even dig out your bowling shoes and hit the lanes.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine.
Friday, April 12, 2019
My husband received the book, Thanks A lot Mr. Kibblewhite, the Roger Daltrey biography, for Christmas, and I promptly snatched it and read it. Daltrey, if you don’t know, is the lead singer of The Who, arguably one of the best rock groups of all time, up there with the likes of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. One of the things that stood out in this book for me was how Daltrey said that the happiest time in his life was when he was working as a teen as a “tea boy,” a kind of “gofer” in an asbestos shed. Even though the job was tedious he recounts:
“We sang all day, every day. We used to drive the guv’nor mad. He wouldn’t let us have a radio, and I’m glad he didn’t because then we wouldn’t have sung. I can’t tell you what a difference that made.”
He goes onto say that one of the tragedies of modern life is that no one sings together anymore:
“In those days, everyone did. You’d be walking down the road and people would be singing on buildings sites, at roadworks, in garages, everywhere. When you’re singing, you’re happy. Singing changes your brain. It reduces cortisol and increases the release of endorphins and oxytocin. Some people have to take drugs to do that.”
Something as simple as singing collectively stands out as the happiest time in his life for a man who is a rock god and has performed for million and has earned millions along the way. But I believe him.
I thought it was very corny when I was a kid, and we’d be at my Grandma’s on Sunday night and Sing Along With Mitch came on television and my grandma, parents, uncles and aunts would sing along to the bouncing ball to songs like By the Light of the Silvery Moon, You Are My Sunshine and Show Me the Way to Go Home. But now as I look back on it, what a marvelous thing that was. Unlike Karaoke, where only one person is the star, everyone joined in together, and it gave us a collective culture. I learned songs that I doubt my children know. (Although my granddaughter demands that You Are My Sunshine be sung before her bedtime!)
I’ve found as I’ve traveled that singing cultures seem to know how to enjoy life more. When we went to Hawaii in the 1980s, we were made to sing all the time to songs like the Huke Lau, Don Ho’s classic Tiny Bubbles and the Hawaiian Wedding Song. In Italy, the Italians entertained us with opera and made us chime in with That’s Amore and Funiculi Funicula. In Ireland, they love to sing in the pubs and on tour buses, and a trip there is not complete if you haven’t sung along to Danny Boy, Galway Bay, or Tura Lura Lura.
As much as I despised Mitch Miller back in the ‘60s, I realized that I learned a lot of those sing-along songs from that show. With so much division, stress and hate in the world, maybe it’s time we start singing together again. It’s good for the attitude, it’s good for your health, and it’s good for society.
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine.
Monday, March 11, 2019
When I was a kid back in the 1970s, there was a television show that aired on Saturdays called You Are There. Hosted by newsman Walter Cronkite, the educational show reenacted historical events with Hollywood stars cast as the major players. For instance, actor Paul Newman once portrayed Marcus Brutus in the episode “The Assassination of Julius Caesar.” Cronkite would report on the event as if it were happening live.
I’m a sucker for good historical stories for a few reasons. The first, I love to put myself into the event. I like to wonder what I would have done if I lived at that time. Would I have boarded the Titanic? Would I be fed to the lions if I were a Christian in ancient Rome? Would I have joined the Revolution or remained loyal to crown back in 1776?
In addition to learning new things, I also like to think about my ancestors. Since I am alive, it is obvious that there is a long chain of ancestors preceding me and anchoring me to the beginning of humankind. I often wonder if and how my ancestors survived through things like Irish famine? What did my ancestors endure during the Viking raids?
A few weeks ago, my family and I attending a showing of the film They Shall Not Grow Old. This film takes you into World War I in ways only You Are There could dream about. The documentary was release in December 2018 in limited theaters and unfortunately, we couldn’t go then, but they brought the film back again in February. Directed and produced by New Zealander Peter Jackson, who is best known for writing, directing and producing The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the film was created with original archive footage of World War I from the British Imperial War Museum and married with audio narration from the BBC interviews with veterans of that war. Using revolutionary technology, the film was colorized and transformed to make it appear as modern film instead of the speedy, jerky movies of that time.
What was most striking to me was how, more than any other film I’ve ever seen, this documentary gave you the “You Are There” experience. Jackson explained in a short piece after the film’s conclusion how most of the soldiers in the film had never seen a movie camera before and just gazed at the camera. Therefore, there are a lot of frames where the young soldiers appear as if to be making direct eye contact with the viewer, bridging 100 years of time to tell their story. And what a story it was and is! You go from the declaration of war until the soldiers are mustered out. But in between you learn about trench warfare, how people coped with constant bombardment, what the British thought of their German combatants, and how these survivors came to be known as “The Lost Generation.”
If you get the chance to see it, do so. You will come away with an understanding of war that reading tomes of history books could not give you.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Northern Connection magazine.