This April there is a new book coming out that I think is going to be a runaway best seller. It speaks to one of the biggest problems in our highly connected society: Loneliness. The book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, is written by the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. I do not know Dr Murthy personally, but I have been a fan of his work on loneliness since I read his September 2017 Harvard Business Review article called The Epidemic of Loneliness. Together by Vivek Murthy is an important book.
Ever since reading the HBR article I have been working on being more aware of loneliness. I have seen it in myself, and in others. When I speak at corporate or association conferences I have begun quoting Dr. Murthy. The realities of the growing rates of loneliness in our society tie in directly to my keynote on networking / relationships and the workshop on performance. While this topic is a small part of my work, it is amazing how many people come up to me in the hallways and talk about this epidemic of loneliness.
Dr. Murthy traveled the country as Surgeon General looking at public health, the opioid crises, and mental health. As he was meeting with doctors and healthcare professionals he uncovered how common loneliness is a our society. About 20-25% of people are admitting to being a feeling of loneliness some or all of the time. Murthy makes powerful and convincing arguments that people are feeling lost and detached in a connected world.
Together by Vivek Murthy will be available at the end of April. I have pre-ordered the book and look forward to diving into this subject. In the meantime I have begun reading as much as I can on his research and listening to podcast interviews with the author.
There are two areas in my own work where loneliness plays a big role:
- Networking and Relationships. I have been speaking about how to connect with people in a gadget-crazed world for almost 15 years. Success in business has a lot to do with how you engage with others. Being good at your work is not enough. People do business with those they know, like, and trust. But the definition in society of the word “know” has morphed over the years. It is more superficial and less intimate than it was twenty years ago. However, what I have discovered lately is many people are lonely in a crowd. You can be an extrovert and be in great pain from the loneliness you feel. Thus my talks now include a message that being with people and having a big network is not enough. To have real success in business and life we need human connection.
- Live Meetings. As a professional business speaker and corporate master of ceremonies I attend a lot of conferences. Looking back I have probably been present as a participant or speaker at over 1000 live events. The meetings industry can play a big role in helping people feel less lonely when they are onsite at conferences. I am known as “The Conference Catalyst” for the content I share on getting people to engage in the networking opportunities at meetings. But until the last two years I did not realize that many people in the audience, while in a crowd, are lonely.
Solitude vs loneliness.
Solitude is not a bad thing. There are times when I want to be alone. I go for hikes in nature, often alone, and I like the power of being left with just my thoughts. As people we get few times to be alone in thought. We now spend time listening to podcasts or checking social media. Murthy says the opportunity for solitude is diminished and we often now do not know how to deal with it. But humans throughout history have had that chance to be lost in their thoughts to solve problems. That seems to be rare now.
On the other hand, loneliness is not a good thing. If someone is feeling lonely they have a longing for human connections. We think with social media we are better connected than ever, but the research is showing the opposite is true. People feel isolated and scrolling through their social media and only see the good things. It makes people feel more lonely as they are only seeing their friends best days. It is worse because people do not want to admit to lonliness. There is a shame that people have and it keeps them from admitting it, even to those with whom they are the closest.
My Own Struggle
From the outside looking in people would not see me as someone who is lonely. I have always been a joiner of organizations and as an extrovert I like the social functions as much as anyone. And yet there have been many times in my life when I felt distant and removed from the people around me. Social Media tools over the last decade has not made it better. I have a lot of likes, links, shares, and follows on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc… but that does not make me feel connected.
As a person, I cherish friendships and I am fortunate to have several people in my life who I can label “Forever Friends” (meaning they have been my friends for a long time, and I expect they will be forever). That said, I have had friendships that have drifted away, and sometimes that parting from people who were once important can hurt and add to the lonely feeling.
It is also common that people we are close with do not ask us how we are feeling, and if they do ask we respond by saying “fine”. Fine is socially acceptable and keeps us from having to be vulnerable. But it does not help us connect. Dr. Murthy said on a podcast I heard “As beings we are designed for love and connection”. I have that written down on a note at my desk.
Together by Vivek Murthy
Together by Vivek Murthy will be released soon. I know from my early research and study that this book will have a profound impact on me as a person, but also as a speaker. I have a unique role that for thirty to ninety minutes each week (I present about 50 times a year) I have people who listen to what I say in regards to relationships and performance. People are the key, but it is not just collecting connections on our digital and mobile devices. Human connections is about seeing a person and being seen.
It is my hope that Dr. Vivek Murthy will come on my “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” podcast and talk about his book (I have asked). But if not, I ask anyone who reads this blog post to please reach out and share your experiences with his work and how together we can all work to combat the epidemic of loneliness.