Humans are an incredibly social species. This is one of the reasons why we have such strong brains and advanced intelligence; to better keep track of and maintain numerous relationships. Our social interactions affect how we think, act and see ourselves as much of our brain is dedicated to social cognition. Completely depriving someone of all human contact is a recognised form of torture. The need for belonging is embedded in our DNA and drives us to form and maintain social bonds. But what happens when people live alone or are single? How does this affect their need to belong?
Loneliness is on the rise
According to a survey by the Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 22% of adults in the US and 23% in the UK feel lonely often or always. Loneliness has become a growing problem that we will hear more about in the coming years.
Loneliness can make you sick
Not only can loneliness trigger mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, but it can also cause physical illness. Researchers at UCLA have found that social isolation triggers cellular changes that lead to chronic inflammation and predispose the lonely to serious physical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, metastatic cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Loneliness, then, can affect not only mental well-being, but physical well-being as well.
The new world of single people
More and more people are making a conscious decision to live alone or are single for various reasons. For these people, it is especially important to fulfil their needs for belonging and social interaction in other ways. But how can they do this?
Social interaction in the digital world
The internet and social media offer single people the opportunity to connect with others and build social relationships. The digital world offers numerous platforms where people with similar interests can come together and exchange ideas. The internet also makes it possible to get in touch with people who are geographically far away. The digital world thus offers many opportunities for social interaction and belonging.
Although the digital world offers many opportunities to maintain social interactions, single people should not forget that real-life interactions are just as important. It is important that they make and maintain social connections outside of the digital world. This can be done by joining local groups or events where they can meet and interact with people with similar interests.
The need for belonging and social interaction is a basic need of every human being. Loneliness can affect both mental and physical well-being. However, single people also have the opportunity to fulfil their needs for belonging and social interaction. In the modern world, there are many different types of communities and social networks that offer single people the opportunity to build relationships and friendships without having to rely on a romantic relationship.
"The deep need to belong is a key human motivation!" (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)