Dear Living Well Daily Reader,
Ever sat at home alone on Saturday night?
Or sat in a crowded restaurant surrounded by people laughing, drinking and socializing yet felt like you’re totally alone? Like you’re an island in a sea of people?
Then you may know the sadness, depression, isolation and even anger that you feel as the empty, lonely hours go by.
In fact, the deep, longing pain of loneliness is so powerful and takes such a toll on your health that it’s a better predictor of early death than obesity.
And while there are some folks who argue spending a weekend night in your own company sounds like a dream come true, everyone has experienced the all-consuming darkness that is being lonely during their life.
And recently, researchers have found that being lonely takes on many different definitions for those who experience this drab feeling.
You see, some folks feel lonely only when they are actually alone, while others can feel isolated when they’re in a crowd of people or even in the company of friends and family. Additionally, this feeling of loneliness can be permanent for some folks.
According to new research from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, these endless pangs for human contact could be linked to a factor beyond our social circle — our genetics.
Wired for Sadness
Using information from a longitudinal study on health, aging and retirement called the Health and Retirement Study, the researchers collected the genetic data on over 10,700 Americans. All participants were age 50 or older and answered three questions designed to reliably measure loneliness, though none of the questions actually used the word “lonely,” since people aren’t always keen on admitting they feel this way.
The questions were:
- How often do you feel that you lack companionship?
- How often do you feel isolated from others?
- How often do you feel left out?
At the conclusion of the study, the scientists found that experiencing lifetime loneliness (versus experiencing occasionally loneliness due to circumstances) is 14–27 percent genetic, making it a modestly heritable trait.
The scientists also concluded that loneliness is usually inherited alongside neuroticism, a trait that causes long-term negative feelings and depression.
A team led by Dr. Abraham Palmer Ph.D., vice chair for basic research at UC, San Diego School of Medicine and lead researcher for the study, is currently trying to decipher specific genetic variations that contribute to the heredity of loneliness. These findings help us further understand the how genes influence our feelings.
That said, whether you’re genetically wired to be lonely or not, there are things you can do to get out in the world and establish connections.
Volunteer at a local hospital, join a gardening club or reconnect with an old friend or neighbor — it might just build a bridge to your island.
Managing editor, Living Well Daily