A paper from a new study has just been released by a professor at Johns Hopkins University talking about the effects of Covid lockdowns. Although the paper seems to focus on a cost/benefit analysis of pandemic lockdowns, I am more interested in the psychological effect these conditions have had on all of us. One significant impact of the pandemic measures has been a breakdown of social connection. These have especially impacted children and since many of the mental struggles we face as adults come from impactful events in our childhood it’s concerning to think about the state of mental health in the years ahead. But we can’t blame it all on the pandemic. We were struggling with a loss of connection before the world was changed by Covid.
We are currently the loneliest generation in human history. A pre-Covid study in the US showed that 39% of people felt they had no close connections to anyone. The numbers weren’t much better in the UK or the rest of Europe. Imagine what lockdowns have done to those people. If we don’t learn to make meaningful connections as children what will our society turn into?
Many people cannot remember what it was like not to have a smartphone and it seems that one negative effect of social media is the superficial and transient nature of our connections. Does it matter if our connections are deep or meaningful? There may have been a time in our evolution when connections with others were based on practical matters such as how people could help each other stay safe and survive. Even marriages were practical arrangements rather than love connections.
It seems to me that we are no longer satisfied with just surviving anymore than we can be fulfilled by a life without meaning or connection. There seems to be a deep need for meaning in our work and the lives we live and perhaps most of all in our relationships. Furthermore, the current rate of depression and suicide may be showing a strong correlation between our lack of real connection and poor mental health.
In a talk given by Johann Hari about addiction, he pointed out that during the Vietnam war 20% of US soldiers were heavy users of heroin. As a result, there was significant concern that veterans returning from war would return as drug addicts. As it turned out 95% of these drug users stopped abusing drugs when they returned from war without rehab or withdrawal. From his interviews with several scientists researching addition, Hari concluded that soldiers came back to friends and family with whom they once again felt a sense of connection and meaning. He speculates that when we feel a lack of bond to each other we seek to bond with drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. Could a lack of meaningful connection result in addiction?
We work so hard to achieve career goals or to meet social expectations that we lose sight of our own needs. It sometimes seems that we live in a system created to distract us from our values and make us forget what is important to us. It is not only a connection to others is that is missing but we have also lost a connection to ourselves. Our sense of self is often based more on external achievements and acquisitions or what images can we share about our lives and how many likes will we get. Marketers have defined what we should want and need far more than our core values.
What is it that makes us feel connected to others? Deep authentic social bonds are usually connections based on values and common goals. If you are feeling a lack of connection start with looking at your own values. Are they based on impressing others and accumulating as much as you can before you die? Such goals are scientifically shown to make us less connected and less happy. Once you have identified meaningful and authentic values you can set some inspiring goals for yourself. Following this, you can find people to collaborate or exchange ideas with who have similar goals and values. This is where you will find the connections that will help you create a life filled with community, purpose and happiness.