I am a true global citizen. I have 1,650 Facebook friends. I have 748 Instagram followers. I have 1,550 Linked In connections. Yep, I am well connected, all the way from Australia to Asia, to Europe and the Americas. I am truly part of a large, global community.

Except that, I feel very disconnected. I seem to know what a lot of people are up to. And I seem to have become an expert at living part of my life by second hand information. But it still feels pretty lonely. How can I be part of such a large, global community and well, feel alone in a crowd???

Maybe it is the use of the word “community”, as in global community. The dictionary defines this word as a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.

I think this is a terrible definition but before we look more into this, what has actually happened to our communities?

According to the book Bowling Alone by Professor Robert Putnam from Harvard University, in the United States, community and direct, face-to-face contact has been declining since 1950. And the research suggests that even though people are becoming more involved in certain pursuits, we seem to be doing more of these by ourselves.

So as connected as we may feel, a recent survey has shown that despite this connectivity, approximately 35% of adults older than 45 were chronically lonely, an 100% increase from a decade earlier.

Maybe being technologically connected is the new way to be part of a community and we are just being too old-fashioned about it? Or maybe we need to redefine the concept of “loneliness”?

I hear you but you see, being lonely is bad for your health.

  • It increases the risk of being put in a nursing home earlier than a person who is not lonely
  • You are also not likely to exercise
  • You are more likely to be obese
  • And more likely to have greater hormone imbalances and to sleep badly
  • You are at greater risk of inflammation
  • Your memory may be worse and you are more likely to be depressed and to suffer dementia.

I don’t think we need to redefine loneliness.

So what is the answer to this? I think it is pretty simple. We need to go back to real communities and become a part of these.

But what is a real community?

Community experts believe good communities share three key attributes (as cited in The Power of Community by Dr Allison Wenglin Belger):

  • First, acceptance that all members are different but united within a common purpose.
  • Second, a concentration on the process of the community as opposed to the results, in other words, quality of effort is the process.
  • And third, a belief from the community members that you cannot get something for nothing. Put another way, there has to be some “suffering” involved in order to develop a community. This can be a shared goal, objective, viewpoint, exercise, etc.

Finding a group that exhibits the above attributes means you have found a community and there are many examples of these around:

  • A local CrossFit gym
  • A local surf life saving club
  • A local book club
  • A local charity
  • A local neighbourhood watch
  • Etc, etc, etc

Pick any one of those. Chances are you come into a group that has diversity of backgrounds, ages, experiences. But all members joyfully share in a process, whether exercising, reading, helping out, you name it.

Everyone fulfils a different role and contributes. And there is a bit of suffering. After all, some of these roles, causes, workouts will give us some “butterflies in our stomach”. But we feel safe because we have found a community that will value us as individuals and as a key part of the group. And that is what we all need.

So remain technologically connected if that is key to you but look out for a real community and join them. Your involvement in these groups will make your life more useful, worthwhile and healthier.

And the more engaged you become in a community, alone in a crowd will not be for long.