Saturday, February 15, 2014

Loneliness - John T Cacioppo & William Patrick

Sub-title: Human nature and the need for social connection

I got this from the library after reading some blog about aging and the increase in people living alone.  It's a quasi-scholarly work that reports on the affect of loneliness based on physical measures in laboratory settings.  Some tidbits I pulled from it were the evolution of our brains (the basest part is called "reptilian"), the importance of oxytocin, a protein found in breast milk, which increases when we're hugged or touched, and the importance of sharing positive experiences (promotion, sport success, winning something) with loved ones.

I got bogged down in the science explanations of the physiological effects of loneliness and took a break from reading until finishing up the last couple of chapters.

After reviewing all of the physical and psychological impacts of loneliness, the author spends the last few chapters discussing how to alleviate it.  One of his key findings is the effect of the "helper's high" or the good feelings we encounter when helping others.  "Loneliness is the prompt that reminds us how much we depend on one another".  People who experience social connection seek out and fully contribute to social situations and relationships.  They are less likely than others to let their own baggage or behabior cast a pall over a gathering. He points out that while we may not be able to control our emotions (feelings) of loneliness, we can "reframe our cognitive perceptions" [thoughts] to change our lives.  This is the power behind Cognive Behavioral Therapy or CBT, which teaches individuals to redirect emotions by modifying everyday thoughts and behaviors. For those starting on a path away from loneliness, he recommends "EASE" into it - Extend yourself, have an Action plan, be Selective with whom you connect and Expect the best.    He points out that loneliness can make us demanding, critical and behave passively and withdraw.  Helping the lonely person requires being aware of their underlying reality and doing what you can to make them feel safe.  Finally, when they evaluated various social connections, they found that those who participate in religious services found a strong, persistent perspective on life and a greater life expectancy.  It appeared that church attendance often reinforces family connections and provides trustworthy interactions with friends.

The author concluded the book with a call to a global recognition of our need to connect and  embrace our interdependance.

Published:  2008  Read: February 2014  Genre: Non-fiction, Science

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