Loneliness is worse for health than obesity – as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It can increase the risk of death by 26 percent and of cognitive decline on the way. But a recent story on the Good News Network offered a heart-warming take on loneliness among older men.
At 67 years of age, “Phillip Jackson moved back to England from Australia,” the story reads, “and immediately felt like a stray dog in his native town.” He may have felt out of place, but he should not have felt alone. There is an abundance of people who feel isolated, even when they are living in vibrant communities.
Age UK’s report 'All the Lonely People' forecast the number of people over 50 in England experiencing loneliness to reach 2 million people by 2026. How terribly sad the same organization found “half a million people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all.”
According to a global survey, about 33 percent of adults experienced feelings of loneliness worldwide. Brazil, the seventh most populous country in the world, has the loneliest adults, with 50 percent of the survey’s respondents declaring that they felt lonely some of the time, often or always.
Less than a third of Australian adults feel that way. It might be because they’ve found an interesting solution. Phillip Jackson learned about the Australian Men’s Shed Association, a rapidly expanding network of mostly men but some women too who appreciate getting together to do woodworking.
These Men’s Sheds, now numbering over 1,200 groups in Australia, are basically a social club in disguise. On the surface, members get together and make things out of wood. But the role these groups play in helping otherwise lonely people connect with peers for a common purpose is not to be underestimated.
Other similar groups exist, including Mens' Sheds in Canada. Another, MensGroup, has podcasts, a YouTube channel, self-improvement courses, and even adventure retreats.
Makings new friends at any point in life can be challenging. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships estimated it takes about 90 hours with someone to make them a real friend, and 200 to become “close”.
For some men, making friends can be tough. Josh Glancy, a British journalist, wrote in Men’s Health, “Many of us find it easier to talk about football or politics than to admit to suffering from a low sex drive or feeling undervalued at work. We don't know who to tell these things, or how to say them.”
He made the apt comparison of loneliness to hunger. “It's a lack of emotional sustenance, the physical pleasure of being in the company of someone who cares about you.”
Getting older inevitably means losing the hard-earned friends made over a lifetime. It’s a sad irony that the older one gets, the fewer friends remain who share the same memories and interests.
A study in the American Journal of Men’s Health offers good advice. Have a purpose in life. In this regard, researchers have good news. People can, they say, develop a sense of purpose even when faced with significant adversity. And more good news, one’s life purpose can change. It doesn’t have to be the same purpose from start to finish.
Grandfathers have been known to counsel their grandchildren, “Go sit on the beach until you know what you want to do with your life.” Maybe it’s time for the old fellows to take their own advice.
If the beach is distant, then there might be a Men’s Shed around. Better still, start up another one.
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