You only need to do a simple search on YouTube to discover hundreds of videos about the topic "I have no friends".
These videos are hugely popular and garner thousands of views, but why? Do people watch because they relate or is it a strange voyeuristic sub-genre of the internet that viewers get sucked into? Why do so many people claim to have no friends? Are we in the middle of a growing 'loneliness epidemic' despite living in arguably the most connected age in humanity's history?
The research and news outlet headlines seem to indicate that we are lonely. The UK government gathered data as part of the Wellbeing and Loneliness survey, which indicates that 6% of respondents (approximately 3 million people in England) said they feel lonely often or always. Feelings of loneliness also seem to be growing; Ipsos found that 1 in 4 Britons felt lonelier than a year ago.
If we are feeling lonelier than ever, then what is the solution?
Amongst these hundreds of YouTube videos proclaiming, "I have no friends" there are a growing number of videos offering advice on how to combat this 'loneliness epidemic' and these videos share information on how to find friendships and create connections.
However, I would argue that having more friends is not necessarily the answer to growing feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
A common thread among these 'I have no friends' videos is a feeling of no one truly knowing the video creator. Perhaps, for whatever reason, we feel like we need to 'play a part' as we move through society? Perhaps we have lost the art of truly listening and experiencing the depth of conversation, free from distractions from the online, and therefore, outside world?
Perhaps we do not need more people to spend time with and more friendships but rather the simple security and knowing that our wider society and our local community (including any friends and family that we have) would truly have our back when the chips are down?
As a species we have spent thousands of years living in community, whereas now we live individualised in our own pods of separation with our own individual resources. Instead of worrying about the friendships that we feel we are lacking, perhaps it is our need for community expressing itself.
Paradoxically, perhaps there is a growing discomfort with simply sitting and being with ourselves? Perhaps we have an inability to feel compassion for our most reliable lifelong companion, ourselves? As Bell Hooks says;
“But many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone. Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
I would argue that it is not so much about having more -- more friends, bigger communities, and more online connections, but rather, if we want to combat our loneliness then we should focus on generosity of spirit, communicating with authenticity and depth, contributing to our communities, finding connection to something bigger than ourselves, and paradoxically, finding comfort in our own solitude.
There are simple actions that can help foster community and connection:
Be present with people both online and offline. Take the time to engage with people you come across in your day to day encounters. Make eye contact and smile. Take time to properly sign off emails.
Practise generosity. It does not necessarily need to be in monetary form.
Take part. Engage in online meetings at work. Respond to someone's efforts to create community and connection.
I am sure you already practise some, if not all, of these actions in your everyday life, but perhaps you might not have recognized how profound they can affect your own well-being and the well-being of the people around you.
Here are some journalling prompts to reflect on your own relationship with community, connection and loneliness:
What does community and connection mean to you?
When have you felt loved and supported over the past month?
Who is your life has stepped up and made an impact in the past month?
These are simply my thoughts and I invite you to think about connection and community and what it means for you.