By Malavika Eby
Having good communication With “Cheer Up the Lonely” Day happening this month (7/11), I’m sure the select few of us who are already familiar with the holiday, have our sights set on the top three “Cheer Up the Lonely” moves we see in the media: 1) Random acts of kindness, like offering a rose to a stranger; 2) Sparking conversation/the acquaintance of someone sitting alone; 3) Complimenting someone out of the blue.
Let me ask you something, though: What if “the lonely” weren’t a band of oddly dressed people sitting alone in public, so easily lending themselves to the label “loner,” but rather each and every one of us, at least in some small, uncertain way?
Since my elementary school years, I’ve been loud, social, easygoing, and typically friendly with most of my grade (though the latter half of high school pushed me into “introvertism” quite a bit more – we’ll save that story for later.) What I mean to touch on right now is the disconnect between the way we present ourselves and how we truly feel inside.
I know most of us have at least once experienced the sorrow of feeling heartbreakingly lonely in a room full of people. On the other hand, we’re also aware that–to some extent–being alone does not always equate to being lonely. Some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve experienced have been alone because I enjoy my own company.
So this leaves us at a spot of even deeper confusion than where we might’ve started off: what does loneliness look like? Who are the lonely, how do we find them, and how can we cheer them up?
To answer these questions, these thoughts come to my mind in response. If any of you are familiar with Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you might be aware that it includes this idea of a new paradigm, also understood as “a pattern or model,” a perspective or the lens through which we observe the world. If we can incorporate the following thoughts into our already existing paradigms, we may approach our social interactions and assumptions regarding loneliness, friendship and social contentment in perhaps more mature and effective ways:
1) We all need affection, warmth and a sense of belonging. Right, everyone? It’s not just you who needs these things, but rather each and every person you know because we’re all inherently social creatures. I state this point first and foremost to remind you all that this need isn’t some personal weakness–it’s a community and even society-wide void, silently but incessantly crying out to be filled. So, that brings me to my second point:
2) We are all “the lonely” at times. The face we see on the outside doesn’t begin to cover the depth of the emotions we feel inside. For that reason, plus knowing our collective need to belong, let’s count each and every one of us to be “the lonely,” even if only a little. Most of the time, loneliness is a fleeting state as emotions usually are, so deeply present at the moment but quickly gone, sometimes in seconds, sometimes in a couple days. Knowing that, at any given moment, it seems pretty likely that a greater portion of us might identify with the feeling of loneliness than we would naturally predict.
3) Commit to supporting anyone around you, because we all need it. Make comments that empower the people around you and show a genuine interest in their lives. These two skills can make a profound positive on the kind of impact you have on even strangers and acquaintances.
One of my fondest memories related to this note comes from my sophomore year of high school, when a girl from my dance team asked me why I didn’t wear shorts more often to school. I simply replied that I had cellulite on my thighs. I couldn’t possibly pull off shorts, and my parents agreed. She shot me an incredulous look. “Dude, everyone has cellulite! You should wear shorts,” she retorted back.
In that circumstance, I wasn’t alone or feeling lonely, but there was a certain isolation in watching girls at my school wear a look that I thought I was too flawed to try as well. But in my friend’s comment that “everyone has cellulite,” her lumping me with the rest of the girls stuck in my head for years after, replaying every time I worried about standing apart for my body insecurities.
4) Commit to being your own cheerleader. This is the final piece of the paradigm shift that I’m proposing, and also the most important one in my opinion. Like I like to say, no one knows you better than yourself, and that includes how to satiate your needs for affection and company. Devote time to have a delicious meal by yourself, curl up in bed and read a book, caress your own cheek, give yourself the pep-talk you’re waiting to hear from someone else, and be your own rock, day in and day out.
Cheering up the lonely is not a once-a-year ritual, but rather a learned habit based on a new way of framing our surroundings, one that sees, acknowledges, and addresses each of our wishes to be loved. This newfound appreciation and light comes from the inside, not the outside, which is why it’s so much easier than I could’ve expected to cut down on all the loneliness inside and around me.
Snip some assumptions here, add some sparks of self-and social-awareness there, and voila! You can do it too.