15 Cigarettes & Lonely

by LA Emrich

Recently, I went to hear my son perform at an outdoor music venue.  He played a few of his originals, which were amazing, along with a couple of popular covers.  One cover he did has always been a favorite of mine—“You Found Me” by The Fray.  The first verse starts out with:  “I found God on the corner of First and Amistad… smoking his last cigarette.”  A peculiar scenario, wouldn’t you say?  The lyrics of the song masterfully connect with feelings of lostness, insecurity, and loneliness.  If you’re interested, you can watch the video here.  Over 61 million others have.

Researchers around the world are starting to sound the alarms, warning the global community of a new rising epidemic called loneliness.  A recent study conducted by Brigham Young University analyzed data of almost 3 million participants and found that, on average, loneliness increased ones risk of premature death by 26 to 32 percent.


Loneliness, Cigarettes & Obesity

The study revealed that the long-term effect of loneliness is surprisingly the same as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  That’s shocking, isn’t it?  Also, the lead study author, Julianne Holt-Unknown-1Lunstad connected the effects of loneliness to those of obesity:  “The effect [of loneliness] is comparable to obesity, something the public health takes very seriously.”  In addiction, the study found that loneliness and social isolation better predict premature death for those younger than 65 years.  Among the younger crowd, including me at 45, it’s no wonder that songs like “You Found Me” have been such huge billboard hits.

In conclusion, the study revealed that there is no magic pill or vaccination with which to combat this rising epidemic.  Therefore, the experts advised that we need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.  Not to diminish the value of this important study, but did we really need a study to tell us that?  Sadly, given the alarming rate at which loneliness is reaching an epidemic status worldwide, evidently we did.


Loneliness & Amnesia

Robert Weiss, PhD, is often referred to as the godfather of research in this field.  His years of study show that loneliness often leads to short-term amnesia, causing one to forget the intimacy, closeness, and intensity of their relationships.  Helping someone regain the warmth and connectedness they once felt involves much more than the cavalier, insensitive advice that is commonly given—“Hey, you need to get out more!” or “Suck it up; don’t you know you’re not the only person on the planet? or “Hey, you gotta listen to this song!”  Obviously, these things are often said lightheartedly and well-intentioned, but for someone in the throes of loneliness remarks such as these can hurt deeply.


So, how do you help someone push through their loneliness?  Here’s a few simple tips:

  • Make small gestures of kindness like an impromptu invite for coffee, lunch, taking a walk, or meeting at the gym to exercise together.  Be careful not to make someone feel like they are a charity case by making it a bigger deal than it needs to be.
  • Make plans to go to a movie, concert, or small venue like a park or farmer’s market.  Many lonely people have a hard time finding something to talk about.  Attending something together will help the conversation to flow and will often prompt good memories to resurface.
  • Don’t cancel or reschedule your plans.  Doing so can often leave a lonely person feeling all the more lonely and isolated.
  • When attending social events together, don’t abandon your friend to catch up with others.  Spend some quality time together and include soft introductions without pushing other people at your friend.
  • Research shows that lonely people tend to interpret remarks and nonverbal messages more negatively.  When the occasion presents itself, help them see a different, more positive side.  In other words, provide a kind and gracious reality check.
  • Check in afterwards by leaving a message, or sending a text.  This will help them know that they are not forgotten.

The Loneliness Quiz

Obviously, these are only a few suggestions.  There are many more.  By starting with these you can help your lonely friends get the ball rolling in the right direction.  If you are interested to learn where your current loneliness levels are, take this 3-minute quiz:  THE LONELINESS QUIZ


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