Loneliness vs. Being Happy. A choice?

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him.  His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

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The Boy at six.  How much fun is Christmas?

This week the Internet has been aTwitter® about loneliness.  It’s part of the cycle – it’s Fall, so it’s time for peak talk about being lonely.  Weight loss stories go year ‘round, but they peak after Christmas.  And the stories have a kicker.  “Loneliness is worse than ______ (obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, or, heck choose your own favorite disease to fill in the blank).”  The most recent article that I read seemed to focus on middle aged men, but I think it goes much deeper than just loneliness.  I think the roots are back to Hope.

When was the last time you were so excited that you could hardly sleep because of the day ahead?  That’s Hope.

I’m old enough I enjoy giving stuff more than getting it, but I’ve observed that kind of Hope, that level of anticipation most recently in The Boy and Pugsley.  The Boy is seventeen, and really surprising and delighting him at Christmas is difficult, now.  But Pugsley is twelve and would have the Christmas tree up in early September if we’d let him.  Pugsley dearly loves Christmas, and that spirit is alive in his heart, even when The Mrs. and I play Scrooge and Grinch®.  The Christmas Spirit (which is really just super-concentrated Hope) is naturally strong in the young.

I’ve recently discussed Scott Adams’ Formula for Happiness (LINK),

Happiness = Health + Money + Social + Meaning.

How does it apply to the young?

Health is (generally) a given.  When a child is sick enough that he leans over the side of his bed and throws up in his brother’s pants (which just happened to be on the floor there because they shared a room), he tends to remember that.  (My brother, John Q. Wilder, was not happy.)  Youth and vitality go together, since they haven’t had time to wreck their health yet.

Money is a hit or miss.  But (generally, again) money issues don’t weigh heavily on the mind of a kid.  They know that times might be tight, but they have no perspective to keep them up at night worrying about money.

Social?  In all but the extreme cases, kids have plenty of chances to interact with other kids and make friendships that last a lifetime.  Even shy kids.  They might not be friends with the popular kids, but they can have friends.

Meaning?  Yes, but like kids, it’s pretty shallow.  Being good is near enough what constitutes meaning for the younger set.  Meaning often comes from adequate performance and parental praise.

But as people get older (past their thirties), the equation changes.

Health:  Yearly you are reminded of increasing limitations, stronger eyeglass prescriptions, and less hair (except on the back, where it grows thicker than an Amazon rain forest).  Ow.  My hip hurts.

Money:  Generally people are better off financially as they get older, with the caveat that their peak earning potential may be in the past.

Social:  Friendships may have worn away through long hours and distance – most social contacts might even be at work.

Meaning:  Meaning likely comes from work, spouse, or volunteer organizations, or, in some cases, just making it to another birthday.

What role does hope play?  Hope is looking forward to time with friends and family, having goals big enough to be worthy of chasing, having plans of things you want to do and experience.  These things lead to enthusiasm and excitement in life.

What does the opposite side of the Adams Equation look like?

Despair=Poor Health(No Hope)+No Money(No Hope)+Alone Socially(No Hope)+Meaningless Existence(No Hope)

Despair leads to all the bad issues:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Disappointment
  • Sadness
  • Pain (real, not like needing a safe space in college because spaghetti is cultural appropriation)

It’s a lot like being a fan of a California NFL© team.

A sudden cratering of any one of the factors in the Equation of Despair can bring about a vicious cycle, leading to spiraling sadness.  This despair is dangerous – fatal if long enough and deep enough.  How many widows die within a month of their husband?  How many men die a month after retirement?

Whereas Hope can put you in a bad place and make you stay for too long (bad job/bad marriage/Raiders® fan), Hope is of then the only thing that will keep you alive when things go horribly wrong, as they absolutely will from time to time.

I think the key might be in being able to look at the world, not through the jaded eyes of experience, but by being able to maintain that sure Hope of a six year old on the night before Christmas . . .

Author: John

Nobel-Prize Winning, MacArthur Genius Grant Near Recipient writing to you regularly about Fitness, Wealth, and Wisdom - How to be happy and how to be healthy. Oh, and rich.

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