Photo by Meredith Nierman
In this episode of Bulletproof Radio, Dr. Vivek Murthy and I talk about a topic that often doesn’t get talked about–loneliness. People often don’t know how to define it; they just know they feel it. Sometimes people are afraid to admit it. It also harms people’s health, productivity, and happiness.
I was intrigued by Dr. Vivek Murthy’s book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.”
Dr. Murthy is an internal medicine physician who served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States appointed by President Barack Obama. During his service, he visited communities all over the United States to find out what health issues concerned people most.
“To my surprise, the topic of emotional well-being, in general, and loneliness in particular, received the strongest response from the public of any issues I worked on as surgeon general,” Dr. Murthy says in his book. “It’s a universal condition that affects all of us directly or through the people we love.”
He also saw a common thread of loneliness when he took care of patients in private medical practice.
His work with loneliness obviously leads to the power of connection. Human connection is critical to our health, its value is often overlooked, and it couldn’t be more timely to talk about right now.
“During this global pandemic, people have actually been pulled even further apart in some ways,” Dr. Murthy says. “We’re not able to see each other as readily as we were able to before. That has introduced an even deeper element of loneliness into many people’s lives. My worry is that if we don’t do anything differently, if we don’t recognize what’s happening, then we will experience a deepening of that loneliness and trigger something that I think of as a social recession.”
He also says that loneliness is a great masquerader: it can look like anger, boredom, depression or anxiety. There’s no shame in identifying loneliness for what it is, which is, in fact, a common human condition. And with awareness, we can name it and take steps to shore up our social connections. There are many tips in this episode to help you foster deeper connections and improve your well-being.
“If we harness the power of social connection and recognize just how much it could impact our health, our performance and our sense of fulfillment, then we could improve our lives in extraordinary ways,” Dr. Murthy says.
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Follow Along with the Transcript
Book: “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World”
- How is the state of loneliness in the world right now? – 1:46
- The notion social distancing is actually a bit of a misnomer. – 4:23
- Keep 15 minutes aside each day and during which we reach out to people that we care about. – 6:07
- Make the time we do spend with other people count and count for more. – 6:30
- Look for ways to serve one another. – 7:03
- Help someone else and that actually changes your state to be more positive. – 9:03
- Service is such a powerful antidote to loneliness. – 11:27
- Is there a medical definition of loneliness or a descriptive thing that’s how a physician sees loneliness? – 12:17
- Three types of societies that, generally speaking, are out there. I call them the three bowls. – 18:25
- The key to strengthening our connections with other people has to do with strengthening our connection with our self. – 22:01
- Loneliness can look like depression. It can look like anxiety. It can look like boredom. It can look like despair. Loneliness can look like all these different things. – 29:48
- Most people wouldn’t want to admit that they were lonely because it’s some sort of a failure and we don’t like to admit that we failed at something. – 32:05
- People who struggle with chronic loneliness do experience a higher risk of adverse health outcomes. They have a higher risk of premature death of heart disease, of dementia, depression, anxiety, and a host of other conditions but the flip is true as well, which is that social connection is an extraordinary source of healing in our lives, as well. – 34:34
- How would I know which of the people around me is experiencing loneliness? – 37:56
- The percentage of adults who are lonely in the United States, it’s somewhere around 22% of adults is much more than that number of adult who have diabetes. It’s more than the number of adults who smoke in the United States. – 39:05
- The culture of work in the modern world flips our priorities. – 43:48
- I think you have a setup for people feeling lonely regardless of how many people they’re surrounded by. – 46:21
- I was hearing from college students on college campuses about their loneliness. Their parents were talking to me about how they struggled with loneliness. People in remote fishing villages in Alaska, CEOs of companies, members of Congress in Washington, DC, all of these people would tell me behind closed doors that they were struggling with loneliness. – 49:03
- My challenge to tech entrepreneurs, can you help us design technology that strengthens human connection, not that dilutes it or weakens it. – 55:49
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