The U.N.’s annual World Happiness Report ranks the happiest people in the world: Finns, Norwegians, and then Danes. The U.S. has dropped to 18th place. What is happening? Surely, we are (or were) a powerful, wealthy nation.
That’s the rub. What social psychologists tell us is that happiness flows from our connections to each other, our sense of community, and a shared purpose. It has nothing to do with a never-ending hunt for consumer goods, security, money or status. The bullying and hate speech, the demonizing of groups of people, a distrust of the media, and a political climate that seems bent on its own destruction have pushed us away from the very thing we need: human connection. Loneliness is epidemic and researchers say, far more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. And loneliness depletes the ability to be resilient because human contact—and therefore help—is diminished.
Here’s the challenge I am throwing out to myself, my family, and anyone who wishes to take up the banner: time to create opportunities for gatherings of family, friends and people who are “different.” Time to put away the digital devices that keep our eyes from seeing each other and the beauty of the natural world. Time to count blessings in terms of human connections instead of money in the bank. Time to put away consoling ourselves with unhealthy habits and possible addictions.
Author E.M. Forester had it right when he insisted “Just connect.” And if you have no one to talk to, call me.