SMALL GROUPS & The Friend Zone: Research says social isolation is rising, but we still need to belong

by Emily Esfahani Smith, The London Guardian Newspaper, 1/15/17.

Research has shown that among the benefits that come with being in a relationship or group, a sense of belonging clocks in as the most important driver of meaning. When other people think you matter and treat you as if you matter, you believe you matter, too.

… Sadly, many of us lack close ties. At a time when we are more connected digitally than ever before, rates of social isolation are rising. About 20% of people consider loneliness a “major source of unhappiness in their lives” and a third of Americans aged over 45 say they are lonely. Meanwhile, the results of an Age UK poll published recently suggests that half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone, and it’s not unusual for another half a million people to go five or six days without seeing or speaking to someone.

In 1985, when the General Social Survey asked Americans how many people they’d discussed important matters with over the past six months, the most common response was three. When the survey was repeated again in 2004, the most common response was zero.

All these figures reveal more than a rise in loneliness – they reveal a lack of meaning in people’s lives. In surveys, we list our close relationships as our most important sources of meaning. Research shows that people who are lonely and isolated feel their lives are less meaningful.

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The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That matters by Emily Esfahani Smith is published by Rider at £14.99. To order a copy for £11.99, go to