valentine’s day: 3 ways to get closer and beat loneliness

Two people hold hands in front of a tree.

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Hot take: Valentine’s Day, at its core, is really about togetherness.

That’s why “alternative” Valentine’s celebrations like “Galentine’s Day” have come into being. Valentine’s, Galentine’s, whatever you celebrate on Feb. 14: all of these holidays affirm our need for genuine human connection.

That need has never been more apparent as we enter year three of the pandemic. Three-quarters of workers are lonely. Young people face mental health setbacks after being isolated from their peers. And the rate of lonely older Americans doubled between 2018 and 2020.

Valentine’s Day provides a chance to ask whether your need for togetherness is being met. Consider these small steps as a means to bring more connectivity into your life.

Talk and talk some more

When it comes to being lonely, stigma might be the real enemy. That is, we get so afraid that people will judge us for expressing loneliness that we stay silent.

But, contrary though it may seem, opening up can unlock your real feelings — and those of the people around you.

“The more we have conversations around it, the less power and stranglehold loneliness will have on us,” Ryan Jenkins, the author of a new book titled Connectable, tells Fast Company.

The book is about the workplace, but its lessons apply elsewhere, too. To combat loneliness, you don’t always need to explicitly address your feelings, Connectable coauthor Steve Van Cohen says. Simply trying to get to know others — such as asking them about something they’re personally proud of — is a great place to start.

Become a joiner

America has become less invested in clubs, civic organizations, and casual hangouts: the “Bowling Alone” phenomenon.

Think about it: is anyone you know in the Kiwanis Club, Elk Club, or Key Club?

But these community organizations never went away. And there are many other opportunities, from language-learning classes to beach-cleanup groups, available no matter where you live.

Reaching out may be the hardest part, due to the loneliness stigma mentioned above. “There are people out there waiting to connect with you who are just as scared to make the first move,” the UK’s Mental Health Foundation nonprofit counsels.

Useful resources include Meetup, Facebook, Nextdoor, and even the bulletin boards in your local supermarket or coffee shop.

For a social action with a multiplier effect, consider exercising with other people. Research shows this keeps you more accountable to your exercise routine AND leads to better feelings once each workout is complete.

Move beyond self-actualization to transcendence

You may know Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — the pyramid that shows how our needs stack from surviving to thriving.

The hierarchy that many of us know has self-actualization, or “living one’s best life,” at the very top. But before he died, psychologist Maslow added something different to the peak of his pyramid.

What he thought was an even higher-order need than self-interest was self-transcendence, or helping others live their best lives.

Put differently, you might become most yourself by giving more of yourself away.

“The goal of [self-actualization] seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also … a step along the path to the transcendence of identity,” Maslow’s personal journal reads.

Conveniently, living for others also makes you less lonely, in addition to giving you a renewed sense of purpose. Because we are social animals with a constant need for meaningful social contact, service to others might be the most impactful thing you can do to combat loneliness.

Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash.

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