Emily Dickinson wrote, "I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you -- Nobody - too? Then there's a pair of us? Don't tell! they'd advertise -- you know!" Finding a friend is important.
In the August 2007 edition of the journal, "Current Directions in Psychological Science," University of Chicago Psychologists Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo published their research on loneliness, "Aging and Loneliness: Downhill Quickly?" Findings indicated that loneliness increased stress levels, raised blood pressure, undermined the circulatory system, increases the risk of suicide for young and old and increased insomnia. Loneliness also decreased positive relationships with other people, and hurt the quality of the medical care received - medical professionals tended to give higher quality care to individuals with supportive families.
Hara Marano, editor of "Psychology Today Magazine," said of the research, "Psychologists find that human beings have a fundamental need for inclusion in group life and for close relationships. We are truly social animals. Friendship is a lot like food. We need it to survive." This could be part of the meaning of Genesis 2:18, where God looked at Adam and said, "It is not good for the man to be alone."
Just to be clear, loneliness and solitude is not the same thing. Solitude is voluntary time apart. The Gospels tell us that Jesus often rose early in the morning to go to a "solitary place" to pray. Many people seek quiet places to pray, read, or write. But while solitude is voluntary, loneliness might be defined as involuntary seclusion, as a feeling of being disconnected or alienated from other people.
The growth of loneliness in America seems paradoxical. The modern American can be in contact with other people all the time. Cell phones make it possible to talk almost anywhere. E-mail is a quick and easy way to send out a letter. But what the technology does is keep us from actually seeing each other, and there is no real substitute for face to face personal relationships with other people.
Part of the growth of loneliness is probably due to the fact that more Americans are living alone. A hundred years ago families might include children, parents, and grandparents - all under the same roof. Today about 1 in every 10 Americans live by themselves. In 1995 over 24 million Americans lived in single person households. By 2010, this number is expected to be 31 million.
We also have fewer close friends. A 2006 study in the "American Sociological Review" found that Americans on average had only two close friends to confide in, down from an average of three in 1985. The percentage of people who noted having no such confidant at all rose from 10 percent to almost 25 percent.
With the loss of close friends, is it any wonder that people do not seem as happy? C.S. Lewis wrote, "Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."
So what do we do? First we ought to admit to ourselves that friendships are important. And then look for ways to make friends. Join a club to meet people with a common interest. Use the networks that you already have in life, and sit down for lunch with a co-worker. As someone said, "Strangers are friends waiting to happen."
And let me suggest that a very good way of making friends is to be involved in a local church. Not just the worship service, but also the Sunday School classes, Bible Studies, or Small Groups. In the fellowship of a church you can find encouragement, make friends, and realize that life is so much better when we go through it together.
As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend."