From YES! Magazine: “Loneliness isn’t a misstep—it has a biological purpose. Humans evolved to feel lonely as a natural alert that we need more connection. We feel pain to get us to do things—just as we feel pain when touching a hot stove to tell us to move our hand, we feel loneliness to prompt connection. Evolutionarily, a group of people has meant safety for humans. The good news is that we’re all perfectly capable of forming connection.
Thankfully, loneliness is not connected to social ability. Dr. John Cacioppo, who studied loneliness, wrote that people who feel lonely ‘have the capacity to be just as socially adept as anyone else. Feeling lonely does not mean that we have deficient social skills. Problems arise when feeling lonely makes us less likely to employ the skills we have.’ His research shows we are less likely to want to socialize when we feel lonely. This can cause us to not interact and feel lonelier. A most unfair cycle.
But forcing yourself to go out and smile doesn’t actually help you feel more connected. Pretending to be happy has a way of highlighting how you actually feel. When entrepreneur Tony Hsieh revamped Downtown Vegas, he created a culture where it was the norm to be ‘on,’ where people celebrated being outgoing and happy. People praised his vision until they realized the Downtown Project had an unusually high suicide rate.
The expectation that everyone should be happy seemed to cause unhappiness. Kimberly Knoll, a therapist in the Downtown Project, explained, ‘Thinking that you have complete control over your emotions and if you don’t feel happy it’s your fault, that can make people feel shame. It’s anxiety-inducing.'”