Recently turning 65yo, I have been paying more attention to the opportunities and challenges associated with growing older. As much as I like to live in the moment, some understanding of this next phase on life can be helpful. I covered some of these in my recent post, “A New Plateau, Turning 65“. One of the challenges I often hear from our elders relates to the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness is not only a condition of the elderly, but of anyone at any age. See my post, “On Loneliness“. Although there are many steps we can take to help deal with loneliness, this post focuses on understanding the root cause so that we can increase our happiness quotient which is the antidote for feeling all alone.
As I checked in with my elderly friends and neighbors how their holiday has been, most responded with the usual, “good” or “nice” response. When they asked me the same question I responded in my usual authentic manner, “although it was good overall, what I experienced this year more so than before was feeling alone. I struggled with this at first realizing that many feel this way particulary during the holidays. Then I decided to research this to see what I could do so that I would not end up depressed.” My reply was more then some wanted to hear. They were hoping that I would just say “it was good”. Some moved on to other more comfortable topics, but many began to fess up with their own feelings which were strikingly similar to my own. They stated their appreciation to talk openly and inquired what I had learned.
What is the root cause of our loneliness I wondered. It was easy to understand on the surface and blame this on the holidays or having to spend time during the holidays alone. But my training required that I look beneath the surface and identify the root cause. Similar to solving any problem, it is best to identify the root cause which is what you want to ultimately solve in order to more completely cure or deal with the problem. For example, if I say that I have a headache, most would suggest taking aspirin. But this is only treating the symptom, not the cause. If the headaches continued I would want to know what is causing them so that I could stop getting headaches.
I defined the problem as “why do I feel so alone and why does this lead to feeling depressed?” With the gift of the internet I discovered some amazing insight from some very interesting sources. Below are two of these resources along with what I learned.
The first video features an amazing individual who would best be described as a guru. He appeared to have achieved greater enlightenment and understanding during his unique life experience. Watch the video and then I will share some thoughts.
It would be easy to write off such a video since we perceive that it does not relate to our own lifestyle, circumstances, beliefs, era, etc. The irony is that many turn to gurus who have made their life experience about understanding life. The more I watched and read the subtitles, the more his message resonated with me. Yes, it challenged the heck out of me, but this is what creates the opportunity for growth! Below are a couple of quotes from the video along with my own thoughts. The key is that you come to your own conclusions.
What is the aim of every human being? Attainment of eternal happiness
This makes sense to me. The question I was asked that led me into counseling and the Personal Growth stage was, “Michael, are you happy? With a lot of consternation I realized that I thought I was, but upon reflection, I had no idea what happiness was. This struggle led me to figure this out beginning with counseling, which launched my own journey of self-discovery.
“Eternal happiness” now means to me that I am happy or content on a regular and consistent basis. Who does not want to be happy? Being honest with myself I struggled a lot in my life with happiness. I worked hard to overcome a challenging past, developing a positive attitude, and changing my life in many ways which led to more happy moments than unhappy moments. I had realized that True Happiness is a Choice and not dependent on anyone or anything else. This was consistent with what Tatwale was saying. Yet, I realized that I was more in fear since turning 65, which relates to his next quote…
Forgetting that eternal happiness is the True Self, we are searching outside [of self]. We have forgotten our True Self and trying to find happiness in this world. Once your mind reaches the True Self by raising awareness, then automatically you will be able to get rid of unhappiness and attain eternal happiness. Through meditation, one raises awareness. The self does not give happiness or unhappiness. The attachments and expectations are giving the unhappiness.
Solutions for our unhappiness are often sought outside of self. We expect that a new car, outfit, relationship, money, event, material item, affair, drug or alcohol, or other item external to self will provide us with happiness. It does momentarily, but then dissipates into our unhappiness until we repeat the search outside of self again and again. I learned early on that the answers lie within. The challenge is how do you do this? During the past few years I have practiced more meditation which has made a significant difference in my life. Tatwale talks about meditation in the video. For me meditation serves to help quiet or disregard the incredibly active mind and thoughts I have, so that I can find more peace in my life and stop dwelling on the negative.
As I meditated on on my loneliness, I realized that I was scared about this time in my life as I would experience the empty nest syndrome where I would give up my cherished role as a Dad at home with the kids, along with a fear of being alone as I grow old. This relates to the “raising awareness” that Tatwale stated. This was closer to the root cause and provided me with a focus. As I processed this I started to realize the positive aspects of these changes and that my fears were based on irrational thoughts.
Relating to loneliness, the most common antidote that people turn to is seeking a new relationship, an action external to self. Surely being with someone new will cure my loneliness we believe. We seek out an affair to cure the failing relationship we have at home, get divorced since the other person is no longer making us happy, or turn to a drug or alcohol to escape the pain and suffering we feel. As Tatwale states, seeking happiness external to self will never produce eternal happiness. This has to come from within.
So the first antidote is to learn how to be genuinely happy with self and achieve this frequently. When I am happy, I am not feeling alone or lonely. I catch myself feeling lonely and reaffirm myself with affirmations (e.g. When I am by myself, I am not alone), focus on gratitude, and find ways to enjoy my own company. Writing for me is one of these ways. It brings great comfort to be open and honest with myself, and then challenge myself to tackle what I discover as the root cause. This is the value I have about never being a victim but instead taking responsibility and accountability for my own self.
This video was hard to watch at first because it shows an old man in a wheelchair shortly before he died. During another video Ram shared that he had a stroke and talked about confronting his own mortality. The very essence of my discomfort reaffirmed a key challenge for me, that I was struggling with confronting my own mortality and afraid of dying. This provoked its own feeling of loneliness since I did not want to die alone.
What I love about this video is that he is an old man who lived into his 80’s and is very happy. It also shares his own style of meditation that I also love, that of being in nature. His words once again resonated with my own views of death and reminded me that spending more time in meditation and nature would help me with my fears and loneliness. I adopted his mantra, “I am loving awareness.”
Ram’s story, in my words, suggests that our True Self, referred to as “our soul”, and that “raising awareness” (prior video) would relate to connecting to our soul. And since our soul is only “Love” than learning how to love ourselves clearly would be an antidote to loneliness. If we can give the gift of love to ourselves, we will feel better. If not, than we become dependant on others to give us their version of love, which is often riddled with conditions and expectations.
The second antidote to cure loneliness is to learn how to fall in love with yourself and with life itself. Take a walk, particularly in nature, and state what you are grateful for. There are so many things that we take for granted every day until we do not have them. These include the basics such as air to breath, the fact that we can breath, walk, see, hear, speak, feel, the sun that warms us, a roof over our head, food to provide sustenance, and so many more things. Rather than focus on what we may not have or don’t have, focus on what we do have. For example, I love being a Dad, but my kids are quickly moving on with their own lives. The feeling of being an Empty Nester produces loneliness and depression. When I turn this around to reflect on all that I have done to help the kids launch their own lives I can feel proud of the sacrifice and work I have done. Now I get to focus on myself, which is something I have not done in many years. Now I become the student as my children teach me how to do this (-:
My thoughts: Our world and in particular our society today promotes happiness in terms of external experiences. Materialism, job titles, earnings, net worth, posessions, often become the Holy Grail for what we believe happiness is all about. We feel happy, but this dissipates. We want more next time. There is an epidemic of unhappiness today showing many symptoms (e.g. drug use, affairs, divorce, suicide, stress related disorders, disease, etc.). “The prevalence of addictions in U.S. society seems to be on the rise, perhaps dramatically. These addictions, in turn, seem to be causing considerable unhappiness and even depression” (Source). This suggests that we step back and honestly assess our own happiness and consider taking that hard look within to reassess your life, values and beliefs.
Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Career Coaching, Leadership, Personal Growth & Self-Discovery. Check out “Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery” You can also view my latest development book on Leadership, “Leadership From The Inside Out: Building Your Leadership Foundation” which utilizes the concepts covered in this Framework to develop great leaders. Visit my website for more information (growhumanpotential.com) including links to my new YouTube Channel, “The Ripple Effect”, Podcasts and more. You can contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org