"Is Anybody Out There?" a podcast series about loneliness brought to you by the Connectery. Join Jeremy Warshaw and Judy D'Mello, a couple of transplanted Brits living in NYC, on their journey to discover what loneliness really is.
Why is it that people get lonely? Does loneliness attack us psychologically as well as physically? Is age a factor? Why do we not have a word for the opposite of loneliness? Can we become un-lonely? Or, is it simply a symptom of our disconnected modern-day world?
The duo had so many questions but the trouble is, they're no experts. So, they talked to scientists, authors, gerontologists, psychologists, urban planners, and to everyday lonely people from ages 19 to 91.
What they learned was truly surprising, and even upsetting at times. Ultimately, it left them facing the biggest question of all:
What kind of a society do we want to be?
Emperor for the Day
If you were emperor or empress for a day, and you were blessed with superhuman -- but benevolent -- powers, what would you do to eradicate loneliness?
In this, the final episode of "Is Anybody Out There?", listeners from around the United States and Europe shared their answers -- really big, bold ideas for instantly ridding the world of loneliness. These were a mix of magical, wistful, and even doable strategies, but all equally thought provoking and heartwarming in their ingenuity and scope. Most of all, it's clear that people are ready to talk about loneliness, openly and honestly, and to view it as a societal ill that needs to be addressed rather than an existential issue.
Which is why, hosts Judy and Jeremy argue, that instead of thinking of loneliness simply as an evolutionary, unavoidable experience, we must face the possibility that it's partly a modern phenomenon, born of an ever-increasing individualistic society and economic and social conditions. Now is time for policy makers, institutions and society at large to do something about it.
Why is that some of the world's most bustling and densely-populated cities are often the loneliest? In "Community Architecture," hosts Jeremy and Judy explore this paradox and discover that metropolises around the world were rarely developed with the well being of its inhabitants in mind. Instead, they were mostly built to pack in as many residents as possible in order to grow into economic powerhouses. As a result, looming skyscrapers, a lack of public areas in which to congregate and connect, and a dearth of green spaces, have made our cities such lonely places. And, certainly, following our collective experience of lockdown in 2020, we know now how important connection is to our wellbeing.
A Lonely Planet
In 2018, the UK was the first country to appoint a Minister of Loneliness, making the issue a parliamentary priority. Japan followed suit in February, while Sweden and Australia are actively campaigning to appoint a dedicated loneliness official in their respective countries.
With such a top-down commitment to tackling the loneliness crisis, change makers in these countries have the necessary support to implement successful strategies to help fight loneliness at official and community levels. Some of these initiatives are highlighted in this episode.
Here in the United States, three in five Americans reported feeling lonely or isolated (pre-Covid) with the issue costing Medicare over $6 billion a year. So, why do we not have an official tasked with addressing this problem? Isn't loneliness a significant enough issue that the US government should intervene? And why are this country's loneliness resources mostly aimed at seniors, when younger generations are lonelier than ever? By engaging in this frank and honest analysis of the situation here in America and worldwide, hosts Judy and Jeremy hope it will lead to more powerful narratives of togetherness in the future.
https://www.cigna.com/static/www-cigna-com/docs/about-us/newsroom/studies-and-reports/combatting-loneliness/cigna-2020-loneliness-factsheet.pdf (Loneliness among millennials and gen Z'ers)
https://sg.style.yahoo.com/kate-middleton-says-motherhood-apos-173000863.html (New mothers and loneliness)
https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org (The Campaign to End Loneliness)
https://www.facebook.com/CantSingChoirNT/ (The Can't Sing Choir)
https://www.choirwithnoname.org (The Choir With No Name)
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/world/europe/uk-britain-loneliness.html (Minister of Loneliness UK)
https://www.jocoxfoundation.org/loneliness_commission (The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness)
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/video/2016/jun/16/labour-mp-jo-cox-maiden-speech-parliament-video (Jo Cox speech to Parliament)
https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/japan-now-has-a-minister-of-loneliness-to-tackle-mental-health-issues-022521 (Minister of Loneliness, Japan)
https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/health/care-robots-wellness-gbr-scli-intl/index.html (Robots to help with loneliness)
https://ourworldindata.org/living-alone (Single person households, worldwide)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLgzDKL9T4s (The Swedish Theory of Love)
https://dafilms.com/director/10101-erik-gandini (Erik Gandini)
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Zygmunt-Bauman (Zygmunt Bauman)
https://colive.se/index-en.html (Colive, Sweden)
https://www.noisolation.com/global/ (No Isolation)
https://www.thelonelinessproject.com.au/about (The Loneliness Project)
https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-we-need-a-minister-for-loneliness-20210224-p575ej.html (Australia campaigns for Minister of Loneliness )
PayPal or Venmo
Feeling lonely? Don't have anyone to go for a stroll with? Or, could you use a cuddle? A feel-good, platonic hug? Well, then a friend rental website or a cuddling service could be just the things you need. They could also be the very resources we need to help with loneliness, even if only temporarily.
But what's it like to spend an hour with someone you've paid to be in your company? Hosts, Jeremy and Judy, decided to find out first-hand when they booked a couple of services through Rent-a-Friend and the Cuddlist, respectively. Both companies seem to be mining the commercial potential of loneliness and claim to be growing in reach and popularity.
You'll meet Maggie, Jeremy's rented friend, and Melody, Judy's hired cuddler. And you'll also hear the hosts' honest assessments on what each of their transactions felt like. They will also ponder broader, societal implications of why in an age when dating apps help strangers meet for meaningless sex and websites secure spouses from all over the world, paying for platonic companionship sill comes with moral burdens.
Episode 6: Friendship
After a year of social distancing and isolation, the power and value of our friendships has never been more appreciated. And what's really come into focus is that healthy social connections is one of the best antidotes to loneliness. However, there's a deeper, evolutionary reason behind this longing to see our friends in-person again: face-to-face interactions with a few dear pals actually produces a surge of good hormones that makes us feel happy and less lonely, while boosting our immune systems and staving off viruses and even mental decline.
Lydia Denworth, a science journalist and author of the book, "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond," helps explain the science behind the life enhancing role of social connection. Sharing human stories and research findings, she brings to life the benefits of friendships. We learn, for instance, that the quality of a few meaningful relationships is more important when predicting mortality rates and happiness in old age than income, education or even cholesterol levels.
Ms. Denworth also reminds us that hanging out with friends should never be optional or something that's squeezed in between work and family obligations. Make socializing a priority, she advises, because when we get together with our close buddies, we're doing something fundamentally important -- something that's good for our health and for the health of our friends.
Are we in the midst of a loneliness epidemic? Well, it depends who you ask. This week's guest, Dr. Mark Epstein, a therapist in New York City and a practicing Buddhist, believes that loneliness is simply one of life's everyday traumas. A ubiquitous human condition that doesn't only visit the unlucky but almost everyone, much like sadness, fear and even death.
Dr. Epstein is also the author of a number of books that bridge Buddhist teachings with Western psychology. During his interview on this episode of "Is Anybody Out There?" he offers great insight into these two traditions, simultaneously quoting Donald Winnicott, a British child psychoanalyst, and the Buddha.
In dealing with everyday traumas such as loneliness, he guides us away from quick fixes and instead, offers an alternative of mindfulness and self-reflection that's grounded in Buddhism. Through anecdotes, Buddhist fables and personal practices, he informs us that meditation encourages us to sit with these uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions in order to understand our feelings of incompleteness and to find solutions to help us navigate a way out. And when we do, we might even emerge more enlightened. Meditation and mindfulness, he believes, are ways for us to unlock the transformational potential of trauma because a hidden kindness often gets woken that we can apply towards ourselves and others who might need help.
I’ve known Jeremy a long time but have been out of touch for over a decade. I was widowed four years ago and know something about loneliness. But I have rebuilt my life and am far less lonely now. I was riveted to the episode. So true, so kind. So thoughtful. He spoke the lonely soul.
Important topic, well done!
What a lovely exploration of the very human experience of loneliness and the effects it has on us all. The stories are so relatable, as are the hosts, who extend a warm hand of connection.
Wonderful. Ironic isn’t it that loneliness is such a common human emotion sometimes felt by all of us despite our living on a planet with billions of other people—or perhaps because of it. Kudos to the creators of these podcasts for exploring this topic with wit, warmth and intelligence.