The United States is entering 2024 under a pall of loneliness. Many citizens feel that no one cares enough about them to properly see who they are. While the percentage of Americans suffering from loneliness has dropped since the lockdown-era spike, the long-term trend is an upward creep. As a result, loneliness appears to have more than tripled since the 1970’s and now affects a majority of us.
Maybe you’re among the connected minority. You might have someone to call for advice or a supportive spouse to dine with. I hope you do. But if you think other people’s loneliness isn’t your problem, you’ve underestimated your interdependence and vulnerability. The level of loneliness afflicting society ought to concern you. If you’re a manager, more so.
People who feel invisible, ignored or forgotten tend to consider themselves victims of an injustice. They’re right, of course. Research suggests that experiencing loneliness is as damaging to wellbeing as being submitted to the second-hand smoke of 15 cigarettes every day, for example. Not surprisingly, employees and citizens who are lonely behave more problematically than those who aren’t. They’re more likely to not show up for their shift, look for another job and slash the tires of a coworker who parked over the line. Whether or not you’re among those experiencing loneliness, this collective malaise dampens your wellbeing as a boss, coworker and citizen. It deserves your attention.
There are many ways you can help combat loneliness, but I would like to suggest one available now, albeit fleetingly. During these first few weeks of the year, those around you are inadvertently revealing what they consider important. They’re sharing what they prioritize, aspire to and care about. That is, they’re talking about their New Year’s resolutions. This is a rare opportunity to transcend the usual impersonal chatter about the weather, sports and business. It’s a chance to speak to the hearts of others, not just with words but with action.
How? Well, what if your New Year’s resolution was simply to help others with theirs? Go take one of your mature tomato plants to the neighbor who’s making 2024 “the year of gardening.” Email the coworker who aims to do a TEDx that you volunteer to be an early viewer. Next time someone shares their New Year’s resolutions, offer to be an accountability buddy, connect them to someone who can provide advice or ask simply ask, “Can you think of a way I can help?” Alternatively, quietly set a reminder a month out to ask about their progress with their resolution. Imagine their delight when a future text asks how their plants are faring or if they’ve had any luck applying to TEDx talks.
A beautiful side effect of supporting the New Year’s resolutions of others is that, as an act of connection, it will also reduce your loneliness or risk of. Furthermore, it will likely provide you some of the positive impacts that any act of contribution generates. For example, it’s likely to reduce your stress, improve your wellbeing, boost your performance or augment your long-term wealth.
Even modest support for another’s New Year’s resolution can go far — and deep. It will surely make it more likely that they succeed with their resolutions. More amazing still, it might say to someone ailing from loneliness what they yearn to hear and need to heal: “The world sees you.”