One major challenge within happiness is loneliness. The more I’ve learned about happiness, the more I’ve come to believe that loneliness is a common and important obstacle to consider.
To be happy, we need intimate bonds; we need to be able to confide, we need to feel like we belong, we need to be able to get and give support. In fact, strong relationships are key — perhaps the key — to a happy life.
Of course, being alone and being lonely aren’t the same. Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.
It seems to me that there are several types of loneliness. Of course, not everyone experiences loneliness in the situations described — for instance, not everyone wants a romantic partner. But for some people, the lack of certain kinds of relationships brings loneliness.
Once we’ve pinpointed the particular kind of loneliness we’re experiencing, it may be easier to spot ways to address it.
Here are some types I’ve identified — what have I overlooked?
7 Types of Loneliness
1. New-situation loneliness
You’ve moved to a new city where you don’t know anyone, or you’ve started a new job, or you’ve started at a school full of unfamiliar faces. You’re lonely.
2. I’m-different loneliness
You’re in a place that’s not unfamiliar, but you feel different from other people in an important way that makes you feel isolated. Maybe your faith is really important to you, and the people around you don’t share that — or vice versa. Maybe everyone loves doing outdoor activities, but you don’t — or vice versa. It feels hard to connect with others about the things you find important. Or maybe you’re just hit with the loneliness that hits all of us sometimes — the loneliness that’s part of the human condition.
3. No-sweetheart loneliness
Even if you have lots of family and friends, you feel lonely because you don’t have the intimate attachment of a romantic partner. Or maybe you have a partner, but you don’t feel a deep connection to that person.
4. No-animal loneliness
Many people have a deep need to connect with animals. If this describes you, you’re sustained by these relationships in a way that human relationships don’t replace. While I love my dog Barnaby, I don’t feel this myself — but many people feel like something important is missing if they don’t have a dog or cat (or less conveniently, a horse) in their lives.
5. No-time-for-me loneliness
Sometimes you’re surrounded by people who seem friendly enough, but they don’t want to make the jump from friendly to friends. Maybe they’re too busy with their own lives, or they have lots of friends already, so while you’d like a deeper connection, they don’t seem interested. Or maybe your existing friends have entered a new phase that means they no longer have time for the things you all used to do — everyone has started working very long hours, or has started family, so that your social scene has changed.
6. Untrustworthy-friends loneliness
Sometimes, you get in a situation where you begin to doubt whether your friends are truly well-intentioned, kind, and helpful. You’re “friends” with people but don’t quite trust them. An important element of friendship is the ability to confide and trust, so if that’s missing, you may feel lonely, even if you have fun with your friends.
7. Quiet-presence loneliness
Sometimes, you may feel lonely because you miss having someone else’s quiet presence. You may have an active social circle at work, or have plenty of friends and family, but you miss having someone to hang out with at home — whether that would mean living with a roommate, a family member, or a sweetheart. Just someone who’s fixing a cup of coffee in the next room, or reading on the sofa.
If you read this list, and you’re thinking, “Yes, I do feel lonely — so what the heck do I do about it?” you might find this post useful: Lonely? 5 Habits to Consider to Combat Loneliness. Or this: Feeling Lonely? Consider Trying These 7 Strategies. (These posts are different from each other, even though the titles sound similar.)
It’s important to realize why we feel lonely, because only then can we see how we might address it. If you’re no-time-for-me lonely, for instance, maybe a solution would be to work with people on a project, where you’d be doing an endeavor together, on something you’ve all made time for. My mother once noted — and I think it’s very true — it’s easier to make friends when you’re working on a project together.
Loneliness is a major factor in unhappiness, so it’s an important area to tackle, if you’re working on making yourself happier.
Want to learn more? When I researched loneliness, I was very surprised by what I found, which I wrote about here: Some counter-intuitive facts about loneliness.
If you want to read more deeply on the subject of loneliness, I highly recommend two books: John Cacioppo and William Patrick, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, and Emily White, Lonely, a memoir about the author’s own experiences and research into loneliness. Also, in my books The Happiness Projectand Happier at Home, I write a lot about how to build and strengthen relationships.
One of the keys — maybe the key — to happiness is strong connections to other people. The lack of these bonds, even temporarily, is a major happiness stumbling block.
Have you found any good ways to understand and deal with loneliness?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. She writes about happiness and habit-formation at gretchenrubin.com. Follow her here by clicking the yellow FOLLOW button, on Twitter, @gretchenrubin, on Facebook, facebook.com/ GretchenRubin. Or listen to her popular podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.