Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?
Eric Klinenberg: Loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers. For example, one set of statistics comes from a study that counted as lonely people who said they felt “left out” or “isolated,” or “lacked companionship” — even just “some of the time.” That’s an exceedingly low bar, and surely not one we’d want doctors or policymakers to use in their work. One reason we need to be careful about how we measure and respond to loneliness is that, as the University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo argues, an occasional and transitory feeling of loneliness can be healthy and productive. It’s a biological signal to ourselves that we need to build stronger social bonds. Professor Cacioppo has spent much of his career documenting the dangers of loneliness. But it’s notable that he relies on more measured statistics in his own scientific papers than the statistics described above.