“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”
-from the song, Eleanor Rigby, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, released in 1966.
Being lonely is not just painful, it is a major contributor to a host of health problems including depression, sleep problems, obesity, and dementia. The importance of social networks–increasing our time spent with family and friends rather than being alone–is so well documented that both the medical and psychological communities are realizing it has the same relevance to health and longevity as things like not smoking or getting regular exercise.
In another well-known Beatles song, we seem to get by so much better “with a little help from our friends.”
Although there have always been lonely people in the world, their numbers are growing. In 2010, the American Association of Retired Persons conducted a survey of 3000 adults over 45 years old. A little over one-third admitted to being lonely compared to twenty percent only a decade earlier.
Some groups were shockingly hard hit. Half of those never married were lonely. Forty-three percent of adults aged 43-49 were lonely. Other prominent researchers estimate roughly 20 percent of Americans are unhappy due to loneliness. That’s 60 million people in America alone.
Susan and Larry called our counseling clinic to get help dealing with the problems of their seven year-old son, Billy. Billy was falling behind in school, having trouble paying attention in class, getting into skirmishes with kids on the playground, and fighting constantly with his four-year old sister. Mom and Dad were upset, worried, and wanted help. Sound familiar?
In the first meeting with this family, the tension and conflict between Mom and Dad was palpable. Although there was a lot of love and warmth expressed, Susan and Larry could not get on the same page about how to discipline. Each time Susan raised her voice or Larry rolled his eyes, the two kids started to fight over a stuffed bear in my office.
This kind of case is common in our clinic, and is often resolved with only four or five sessions, especially when the parents are open to feedback and are motivated to make some changes.
If we can work with the parents to resolve their conflict and lower the emotional volatility in the family, the kids begin to settle down almost immediately. What are the lessons that all parents can take away from this example?
“Your children need your presence far more than your presents.” – Jesse Jackson
“A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.” – Lucius Seneca
I’ve been thinking a lot about birthdays lately since I just celebrated my own and look forward to the June birthdays of both of our grown sons.
Sharing special time together and evolving your family’s unique traditions for holidays and birthdays are important ways to honor and solidify the bonds of love and connection. Numerous studies have shown that consistent family routines and rituals are associated with improved children’s health, academic achievement, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, and stronger marital and parent-child relationships.
That being said–there is no research that says that the more money you spend, the greater the benefit.
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Do you worry that you are not spending enough time with your children? Are you plagued by guilt when you sit around and do nothing? Do you feel that there is never enough time to do the things you have to do, let alone the things you wish you could do? You are not alone. But there is hope to be found.
“They took all the trees, put them in a tree museum. Then they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see them. Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell
When you think about some of your happiest memories as a child, what do you remember? My husband spent countless hours of his childhood playing on his own or with pals in the woods near his home. No adults supervising. Hours building forts, throwing acorns, damming the creek, climbing trees, playing hide-n-go-seek.
And mine? Summer nights with a dozen kids of all ages, catching fireflies in jars, playing kick-the-can while being dive-bombed by bats. Or going to the dump in Wisconsin with my dad, where we were almost guaranteed to see bears or other animals foraging after dark.
Even as recently as the 1970’s, American kids still spent most of their free time exploring and playing outdoors, using the sidewalks, streets, playgrounds, parks, and vacant lots with little or no restriction or adult supervision. Our children, when allowed many choices, usually opted for the nearest wild place—if only a big tree in the back yard.