The loneliness solution

If you’re a typical westerner in the 21st century, you probably feel lonely—occasionally, often or even most of the time. But, in contrast to other afflictions, we’re unlikely to confess our loneliness to others.

However, loneliness hurts. Terribly. In the bestseller Lost Connections (2018), hailed as a seminal book for our times, Johann Hari explains that acute loneliness makes our cortisol levels soar and causes as much stress as a punch from a stranger.

What is loneliness?

As well as being painful, loneliness can be confusing, striking at unlikely times—such as when we’re around friends or family. That’s because feeling lonely and actual social isolation aren’t the same thing, explains Michelle Lim, a clinical psychologist at Swinburne University of Technology and scientific chair of the Australian Coalition to End Loneliness.

“With loneliness you feel subjectively alone and disconnected from others,” says Lim. “You might be also embedded in strong social structures like school and work and family but you still feel lonely because you can’t get that connection. Even if you do have friends, it doesn’t mean they also cater to your social needs.”

Social isolation, on the other hand, is the experience of having little contact with others. While some may thrive on it, Lim says too much social

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