Alex:I was supposed
to meet a friend here today,but I think he’s ten minutes
late right now and I don’t see him,
so I hope I didn’t get ghosted.( ringing )Operator:
Your call has been forwardedto an automated
voice messaging system.Alex:Almost everyone knows what
it feels like to be lonely.( groans )And in 2018, nearly halfthe U.S. population reportedfeeling lonely regularly… Woman:
Loneliness is a major threatto Americans’ well-being.…leading some experts
to say that we’re actually in the middle
of a loneliness epidemic. Woman:This rises to the level
of true public health concern.And we often make
assumptions about the things
that make us lonely.But research has shown
that the amount of time that
we spend with other people…Did this make you less lonely?…and the quality
of our social skillsdon’t really make a difference.Loneliness may be a greater fear
than death.So why do so many
of us feel lonely?And what should we do
about it?( music playing )So, how many friends
do you have?
Like, close friends. Probably, like, 10 or 15
really close friends, – who I talk to weekly,
– Wow. Christophe:
But I do feel that changing. – Got out of college
– Ahh, I see. …and a lot of these people I’m starting to not see
that much anymore. Alex:
When I got out of college,
I would say I had – eight to nine good friends.
– Yeah. And out of those
eight to nine,
only one is left. As a guy myself,
I’m more reluctant
to reach out – and put myself out there.
– Yeah. Christophe:From the studies
that I’ve read,there isn’t
a conclusive differencein loneliness rates
between men and women.But there is some evidence
that women are more comfortable admitting that they’re lonely. Alex: And loneliness is
something I’ve dealt with – all my life.
– Yeah. So I’m gonna take it on.
I’m gonna go online, see if I can make
new friends using an app, and maybe that’s gonna
help out with the loneliness. I swiped through,
like, 200 dudes. – Really? And he was the one?
– And he was the one. So I’m going to a restaurant
to meet with Maximilian. – I’m a little nervous.
– What are you nervous about? – Will we click?
– Right. Just be yourself. Smile. Not like that.
That’s– – See you, dude.
– Stay dry. Hey. You’re Alex, right? – Are you Maximilian?
– Yes. – Good to meet you, man.
– Good to meet you, man. – After you.
– Thanks, brother. Yeah, dating is normal
using the app. But making friends
using the app is kind of– people see it as weird,
I guess. Everything about
what we’re doing is weird. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. What do you do
when you’re feeling lonely? I don’t know.
I can’t answer that, dude.
I don’t know. I just feel that,
to be totally honest. A couple weeks ago,
I was really vibing
with this guy ’cause we shared
so much in common. I was just like,
“Hey, we should hang out,” like in the middle
of a conversation. And he was kind of
taken back by it,
I could tell. Like, he wasn’t disgusted,
but I just feel like
he’d never been– – nobody’s ever
said that to him.
– Oh, no! Like, “I’ve never heard
somebody say that before.” And it takes a bit of time
to break down those
barriers, you know? It is a little more difficult because it’s, like,
are you gonna give up
that masculinity by becoming friends
with this person? That’s the weird thing, is I have no trouble
making friends. I’m a very open person. I really just want
a tight-knit group of friends. It takes a lot of time
to get out and build
those relationships. All right,
good meeting you. – It was good meeting you, Alex.
– I’ll be in touch. The term “loneliness epidemic” suggests that this is
some modern crisis that is just starting
to effect us right now. But the roots of this problem actually go back much further
than you might think.In the late 1700sat the start of
the Industrial Revolutionin Europe
and the United States,people started to move out
of small communitiesand into cities
to work in factories.It’s around then
that you first start to see the use of the word loneliness
in English printed works. Loneliness became the first word to describe the experience
of being alone. Before that, the closest thing
that we had was “oneliness.” But that just referred
to the physical state
of being alone. It wasn’t until the 1970s that experts started
to describe loneliness as a public health crisis, like in these American
newspaper clippings where they describe
a “Loneliness Epidemic
In Our Time.” All these headlines are talking
about this loneliness epidemic in the same way
that you would see media coverage
talk about this today. So, for example,
this one says, “There is an epidemic
of loneliness in America today
that drives people to seek companionship in laundromats,
shopping centers, Weight Watchers and bars.” That’s from 1973. Articles like these
were reacting to the start of some major societal shifts. Like, when we get married
in the U.S., people have been getting married later and later since the 1950s. And young unmarried people
report feeling more lonely than their married peers. And organized community groups
like church have become
less prominent than ever. Today, a quarter
of the U.S. population is unaffiliated
with organized religion versus just
five percent in 1972. And those who attend religious
services less frequently
tend to be lonelier. So we can’t say
that we’re lonelier than ever, because we haven’t really
had a consistent way to measure loneliness over time. And we can’t say
whether those social changes have caused higher rates
of loneliness today. But we do know that more people are spending big chunks
of their lives isolated from
close-knit communities. That’s important
because our brains are wired to want those social circles. There’s one theory that could
help us understand the impact that has on loneliness. There’s this idea
that there is a cognitive limit on the number of people
that humans can have, basically, a meaningful,
social relationship with. That idea is known as
Dunbar’s number. The guy who came up with this,
his name is Robin Dunbar. What he did to find that number
is he basically looked at average brain size
of different primates and average social group size. And he made sort of trend line
based off of that and extrapolated that humans
probably are meant to be in a group of about 150. And when he double-checked
that with modern hunter-gatherer societies
at the time, it totally checked out.
The average number
was about 148. – Hunter-gatherer societies
were usually 150 people?
– Small. – Yeah.
– Huh. But Dunbar’s number
is really a set of numbers, so there are a whole bunch
of subgroups within this. The first number is five. This is kind of like
the family and friends that you were absolutely
closest with. You tend spend about 40%
of your social time with these five people. I wanna know
who these people are… – Really?
– …for you. Yeah. You’re gonna make me
namecheck them? So then, moving up
from this level is what Dunbar calls sort of your sympathy group
of 15 people. These are the people
I would allow to see me cry. One level up from that
is what Dunbar calls
the close network. So these are people
that you would probably invite
to a big dinner party. It’s interesting.
I would put in this category
people I see every day. – So I fit in this one.
Is that what you’re saying?
– Yeah. – Yeah, you go here.
– Cool, cool, cool, cool. And in the last level,
coming back to 150, it’s sort of the max number
of meaningful relationships
that you have. – These are my casual friends.
– Mm. For most of human history, you would’ve lived
with these people for almost your entire life. If I didn’t live
with my boyfriend – or if this person
lived out of town…
– Mm-hmm. I would not in my daily life
see any of the people
that I was closest to. Yeah, which is crazy. – Which is crazy.
– It’s important to note that you can feel lonely
at any one of these levels. And the fact that we’re not
interacting with a lot of these people
face-to-face every day does have an actual impact
on those relationships. Dunbar said
that emotional proximity
decreases by 15% every year that you don’t see someone
face-to-face. Which means that
it just takes a few years for someone who might’ve been
in your top five, say, in college,
to go all the way to sort of the outer limits
of your 150 people. I’m gonna leave this shoot
and just book a flight – to see my best friend.
– Exactly. So, if these
all represent different
flavors of loneliness, how do people deal
with each of them today? That’s what
we want to figure out. We’re here in Branford,
Connecticut talking to a group
of people called Romeos.That stands for
Retired Old Men Eating Out.There’s a really strong appeal
to groups like this.Research shows older men
are more at riskof social isolation
when compared to older women.A lot of these guys miss
the connections that they hadeither growing up or in school
or in their working life.And they want to find a wayto maintain those kinds of
friendships in retirement.When I retired,
I tried to get in a few things, but nothing seemed to click. Most of the wives
have book clubs, – bridge clubs…
– Yes. Yes. – …and garden clubs.
– Garden clubs. And this group
was just perfect. We just get together
and we shoot the breeze, and it’s a bunch
of very nice people. Are there moments
for all of you that stand out that kind of brought you here? Sometimes,
it’s a relative will say, “I’m concerned about
so and so being lonely.” We get those kinds of contacts all the time through
our website. I became involved
with the Romeo group through my granddaughter who did research
and contacted Frank. Because of my loneliness, she convinced me
to join the group, and I’m glad I did. And you weren’t sure at first. – You came very reluctantly
to the first group.
– Exactly. Loneliness may be a greater fear
than death. During the day,
even if you’re a widowed guy, you’ll find things to do. But when you’re
home at night all by yourself and you close that door, no matter how much family
you have, there’s some point in time
when you are all by yourself, and you won’t know
that sense of loneliness
till you’re there. It’s just– there’s a void. There’s a part of you
that’s been taken from you and there’s no way
to replace it. So, you know, a place like this
takes the edge off of it. – This is kind of
a depressing conversation.
– Yes. But normally when
we get together,
we have a bunch of yuks.( music playing )Oh, my God.
Thank you. What? – What are you doing?
– I feel like I can’t. – This is cheating.
– Oh, how nice. Speaking,
I guess to me, as a– Young whippersnapper? – Young whippersnapper.
– Okay, go ahead. Are there things
that stand out as advice to how to build strong
social connections that last
throughout your life? I think it’s recognizing that
that’s not the reality. – Each change over time
is a transition.
– It’s fluid. Each transition is a potential
for loneliness or a void or whatever
you wanna label it as. So I think it’s recognizing
that’s gonna happen and it’s in you
to make the difference.( music playing )– Christophe:
Do you feel lonely?
– I’m doing good recently, but sometimes I feel
a loneliness so intense that my rib cage hurts
and it just feels like I don’t even want to get up
in the morning or move. As bad as it is,
I don’t think you’re alone – in this by any means.
– Yeah. It’s something that
we’ll all encounter
at some point. – It can affect anybody.
– Yeah. So we all feel
lonely sometimes, but where did
this feeling come from? There’s this evolutionary theory from neuroscientist
John Cacioppo who says that loneliness
actually played an important role in
the survival of our species. And Joss is gonna
help us out with that. – Hey, Alex. Good.
– How’s it going? We’re gonna take you on a trip
through prehistoric times to show you how
we used to have to survive. So, homo sapiens didn’t
survive because we were fast or strong or equipped
with natural weapons. What they did have
is the ability to cooperate and communicate
with others in their group. Hey, guys.
Let’s cooperate. So, those protective
social bonds help to guarantee us safety, shelter, food, and the ability to procreate. – Aww, a baby.
– Yeah, a baby. What’s up? The pain of loneliness
acted like a stimulus. It alerted us when
our social bonds were at risk and we were potentially
going to be isolated. Guys, where are you? So that feeling actually
triggers physical responses just like other needs
in your body. So, like, when you’re being
swiped left on, it’s just like…
( grunts ) That’s loneliness
hitting you in the face. So it was advantageous
to feel uncomfortable when your social bonds
were at risk because people who felt that
were more likely to survive. Right? If you’re
super comfortable alone, you’re probably in danger. Yeah. Your body,
and more specifically, your brain are trying
to keep you alive. So if you’ll turn to the side,
I’ll show you how that works. We now know that the pain
of social rejection activates the same part
of your brain as physical pain. Loneliness
is a motivational force
coded in our DNA. Just like the pain
of hunger tells us to eat, loneliness tells us to seek
the safety of companionship. Huh. When you start to feel
the stress of loneliness, What? Your body releases
stress hormones like cortisol, which make us more alert, and epinephrine,
your blood vessels and increases blood pressure. Your heart beats faster to send
blood throughout the body. This is what’s called
the flight or fight response. – You may have heard of it.
– Mm-hmm. It’s triggered
by the sympathetic
nervous system and it’s an immediate reaction. It’s like your body
reminding you – that you need your people.
– Yeah, exactly. All of these
like hyper-vigilance and restless sleep
could drive you to reconnect with your group. But the problem is
while these reactions haven’t changed all that much
since early human history, their context actually has. – Make sense?
– It does. It’s not like
you’re gonna run out of food because no one’s
texting you back. – Right.
– However, this does
have tremendous health effects
on your body. What we found was being more
socially connected, was associated
with a 50% reduced risk for premature mortality. The effect of lacking
social connection carried a similar risk to smoking up to
15 cigarettes per day. Loneliness and depression
are not the same thing, but being lonely
can put you at increased risk
for depression. Alex:When you feel lonely,
it also affects you sociallyin ways that prevent you
from going out more. So people who are lonely
are actually more sensitive
to social cues. Those who are chronically lonely
also tend to interpret neutral kinds
of social situations as more threatening. Wow. So your brain
is scrambled, and then as you’re
trying to reach out, you’re maybe
reading things wrong.( phone rings )Alex: I’ve been online,
I’ve been offline searching to try to make friends. Operator:
Your call has been forwardedto an automated
voice messaging system.So, Chase was supposed to
be here 15 minutes ago. Oh, he’s calling. Hello? All right. I thought he ghosted me, but he just–
he just has train issues. – There he is.
– Oh, hi. – Hello, everyone.
– So glad you made it. Thank you so much.
I’m happy I made it, too. Woman: So, we’re gonna start off
doing a small gradation. So it goes from dark to light. How do you twist your hair? Actually, I use a sponge. I’m kinda losing
some hair up in here. Like, it’s getting
kind of thin up in here. – Black castor oil.
– Yeah, they also say
it’s good for beards. – See, my beard grows in
kind of patchy, so I was–
– Mine, too, yeah. Like, how many close
emotional friends do you have? – Four.
– Four. And out of the four,
three of them is family. – Do you ever feel lonely?
– At times. It’s crazy because the way
that the world has played it is that black men can’t be
openly to one another. Like, a female can say,
“Girl, you look great. You got a nice body,
nice shape.” Guys can’t say,
“Yo, homey, I think that haircut looks nice on you.
You’re a handsome guy.” I haven’t talked to
another black guy about hair – in a while.
– See? Like, I find trouble
making friends who have similar
interests to me, but also who are,
you know, the same as me. So this recent report came out
from this group called AEI. And they found that
54% of black Americans are lonely every now and then
compared to 36% of whites. And they say that’s because
we all have our own communities and friend groups,
and we have unique
social needs. – Mm-hmm.
– So, when you’re
not interacting with people who are
from these groups, whether it’s racial,
religious, otherwise, – that can lead to loneliness.
– Yes. Um, I’m about ready to show you.
How are you doing over there? Uh, you just promise me
you won’t laugh. I won’t laugh, no. All right, one, two, three. All right. Yours looks phenomenal. Mine looks like
a kindergartener did it. I like your clouds
a lot more than mine. Look at the bird.
Like, that’s the Lone Ranger. – Where’s his friends?
– Just one bird. He’s lonely. I guess he is. We’re gonna fix
his little wing. – So then they flying together.
– All right. We are going to talk to Delilah. If you have listened to
late night radio in the U.S., you probably are familiar
with her voice. Delilah:Welcome to
the “Delilah Show.”How are you tonight?Is there someone special
on your heart?So, you’re 21 years old
and you’ve never beenin a intimate,
loving relationship.I’m Delilah,
and I do the “Delilah Show,”which is a nationally
syndicated radio showheard in about 200 countries
around the world.I’ve been doing this
a long time. How would you describe
what is special about the format of radio
that lets you have
conversations like these? So, when people are
at home listening to me or driving in the car
listening to me, I’m just this sort of voice
in the night. So I can be whatever
they imagine me to do. And it allows me
to connect with people in a way that I don’t think
I could in any other medium. Do you feel like
the kinds of conversations that you with people
on the radio have changed? People today, they don’t have
that inner circle. The one thing
that I have noticed the last 10 or 15 years
that has changed is the level of desperation
I hear in people’s voices. So I’m listening
for what they’re not saying as much as I’m listening
for what they are saying. And I believe people
are not saying, “I hurt.” What do you tell
someone who’s struggling
with loneliness? My first question is
who can you turn to? And if they say,
“I don’t have anybody,” I’m, like, okay,
therein lies the problem. When you feel lonely,
you become more isolated. When you become more isolated,
you start cutting yourself off. And after a while,
loneliness begets loneliness. I tell them they need
to form a real relationship with somebody who needs them. Just step outside
of your comfort zone and pretend you’re Delilah
and ask a few questions. Alex:
So why are we so lonely?At the most basic level,it’s our body’s way
of telling us we need to reach out
and connect with other people. That was true
of our prehistoric ancestors and it’s still true
for us today. I told one
of my close male friends
that I loved them. It was, like, the end
of our phone conversation. I was like,
“Hey, I love you” And he was kind of, like,
very taken back by it, but he was like,
“I love you, too. I don’t know why
I’ve never said thatthat to another male friend.”Christophe:But the time
that we’re living inalso presents us
with more opportunitiesto chose our own tribes. Delilah:We need to feel like
we’re a part of something.A part of a family,
a part of a village.Something bigger than ourselves. So you pick the people
that you really wanna be with and you’ll never be lonely. – That’s what–
– I like that. But if you are ever
feeling overwhelmed by this, and I know I have, it happens, there’s actually links
in the description that you can check out
for help. – Hey, how’s it going?
The thing to remember is that
of all different kindsof emotional pain
that you can go through,loneliness is the one kind that
you can’t solve by yourself.We need other people,
and other people need us.Thanks so much
for watching that video. A lot of work went into it. If you wanna see more
“Glad You Asked” content, check out the videos
over here on the right. And if you just wanna see
more from “YouTube Learning,” over here, we got more for you. Enjoy.