Why We Are Driven to Connect

Why We Are Driven to Connect

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We can't deny the real public health crisis that loneliness presents. Artist and spiritual revolutionary Sah D'Simone shares the power of connection.

Needing each other is the most natural thing there is. We have got to unlearn the thinking that need equals weakness and reclaim love, affection, and friendship as our birthright. Our lives and our spirits depend on it. But we can’t even begin to do so without looking straight at loneliness rather than away from it. There is nothing shameful about loneliness. Think about it as one of your psyche’s alarm systems, alerting you that a critical need is going unmet: your need for connection.

The groundbreaking work of neuroscientist Dr. John Cacioppo, who, alongside his colleague Gary Berntson, founded the discipline of social neuroscience, found that loneliness is a cue, like hunger, signaling us to act in service to our survival. Chronic loneliness, Dr. Cacioppo’s research demonstrated, weakens our immune system and increases the likelihood of an early death by 20 percent. Research has linked social isolation (infrequent contact with others) and loneliness (the feeling of being alone, regardless of frequency of contact with others) to higher risks of a variety of physical and mental conditions: inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, and attempted suicide, among others.

We are driven to connect, so when we aren’t connecting, we are simply not living in the truth of who we are. It’s not surprising then, that in a recent study, people (mostly men) who possessed narcissistic personality traits (antisocial traits that are toxic to relationships) were found to have very high levels of cortisol in their saliva. Overexposure to cortisol and the release of the stress hormones it triggers can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. Not only that, but studies also show that chronic high cortisol levels put individuals at greater risk of long-term health problems, particularly cardiovascular events. This is striking to me because it comes back to the heart. Literally, the health of your heart reflects the health of your mind. Are you starting to map out the thread of loneliness? If we starve ourselves of connection, we suffer. It’s that simple.

And yet the bitter truth is, as a society we are lonelier than ever. A 2021 national survey of American adults conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 36 percent of all respondents reported feeling “serious loneliness,” indicating that in the four weeks prior to the survey, they had felt lonely “frequently” or “almost all of the time”—but that 61 percent of young adults surveyed reported experiencing serious loneliness. In a 2018 survey of twenty thousand people conducted by the insurance giant Cigna using the widely recognized UCLA Loneliness Scale, two in five people reported that their social relationships weren’t meaningful, while Gen Z respondents (between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two) reported the highest rates of loneliness. Additionally, there was a 30 percent increase in suicides in the United States between 2000 and 2016. These statistics are devastating, but in confronting them head-on, we can’t deny the real public health crisis that loneliness presents.

Excerpted from Spiritually, We: The Art of Relating and Connecting from the Heart by Sah D'Simone.

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