Linda: A confidant is defined as a trusted person with whom personal matters and problems are discussed. In a sociological study (conducted by McPherson, Smith-Lovin, and Brashears, in their journal article Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades American Sociological Review, Vol. 71, No. 3-June 2006, pp. 353-375, Published by The American Sociological Association) there are clear findings that core discussion groups, those made up of our closest relationships, are dwindling.
In 1985, those interviewed who had only one confidant or none was one in four. When the study was repeated in 2004, the findings were going in the wrong direction. One in two claimed that they had no one or only one person to turn to discuss deeply personal matters. No wonder there is so much stress, depression, anxiety, divorce, and worry. One of the main ways that we shift our mood is to speak with a trusted friend when times are challenging.
Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam, is a sociological survey, amassing data as far back as the 1940’s describing trends in human connection. He reports that in previous decades people spent much more time together, serving as volunteers on committees for their churches, playing together regularly on teams like bowling leagues. Men met weekly for decades for poker night, the original men’s groups. Before feminism, which prompted legions of women to enter the workforce, volunteers handled a myriad of charity work in hospitals, orphanages, schools and fundraisers for all kinds of organizations Women organized the family’s social calendar, and there were frequent celebrations of birthday’s anniversaries, holidays in each other’s homes.
People in the United States are working more than any other country on the planet, and any other time throughout history. Working long hours steals the time and energy required for socializing. Only regularly visiting with friends fosters the bounds required to be and have confidants.
Going to a friend in our time of need (when troubled by a difficult relationship with a family member, friend, or in the workplace) takes courage to admit our pain, fear, and confusion. To turn to a friend when a professional or health crisis occurs requires that we admit we didn’t have all the answers, that we are hurting perhaps even feeling helpless to change our situation. If we haven’t spent time giving and receiving with close friends, the distance to traverse may be too great to leap to speak openly with them about our suffering. We are challenged to keep our priorities straight, to not let work dominate our life, squeezing out time and energy to build our friendships and our support systems.
The positive psychology movement studies which countries get high scores in happiness and why they do so. Denmark often ends up being the top country in the world. Everyone works a thirty-six-hour workweek, and no one stays late at the office. 95% of the population belongs to clubs of all kinds. The clubs meet regularly drawing together people with similar interests, many of whom become friends. Every Dane takes several weeks off for vacation, often sharing it with friends. They enjoy their lives and share their lives with others.
In terms of happiness, there are often eighteen or nineteen countries ahead of the U.S., including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Guatemala. One of the trends that the Happiness researchers find is that these countries have in common is their willingness to prioritize relatedness. They do not have a heavy emphasis on the individual as in our country. They understand the beauty and richness in groups of two or more.
We are all challenged to make choices that will enhance our well-being and not be influenced by the prevailing views around us that do not serve us. Years ago, there was a time in my life when I realized that I was feeling chronically lonely. My relationship with my husband was fine, and I was enjoying my children and career. But the world of my nuclear family felt too small. I mentioned it to my friend Lynn Gallo who said, “You need Dialing for Dollars list.” She went on to explain that our real wealth in our life is our friendship network. She added, “Because people are so busy, you need a long list of phone numbers to call because you so frequently get voice mail when you are longing to connect with a human being,”
I took her idea as a homework assignment. At first, I only had three names on it. Over the years, I have accumulated over thirty. I tend to gravitate to highly purpose-driven people who are quite busy, so I need a long list. This precious dialing for dollars list expands the joy with which I live my life. I don’t suffer from the terrible loneliness that plagued my life for years. I trust that if I was going through a difficult time, these friends would be there for me in my time of need, to listen to me non-judgmentally, to ask me questions designed to have me find my own solutions and to love and support me which is what an A, Number 1 Confidant does. And they each know I would do it for them.