Wholly Living

A Message to the Class of 2020

Academic journals and lay periodicals are now filled with research about the “epidemic of loneliness” in our society. Many view it as a new public health crisis, linked to rising rates of depression, anxiety or even suicide. A lack of strong social relationships has been found to raise the risk of premature death by 50%. […]

Academic journals and lay periodicals are now filled with research about the “epidemic of loneliness” in our society. Many view it as a new public health crisis, linked to rising rates of depression, anxiety or even suicide. A lack of strong social relationships has been found to raise the risk of premature death by 50%. Most startling and alarming studies are finding that the worst loneliness today is not among adults or the elderly but in your [college graduates] age group. Astonishing percentages of today’s young people say they have few if any close friends. Dating and other traditional forms of interaction have declined sharply. Humans are social creatures or, as sometimes said, “relational beings.” The ability to interact, communicate and collaborate is what defines us. We thrive on contact with others and we suffer severely from its absence. 

Plummeting birthrates play a role: Having fewer children and fewer siblings limits the opportunity for caring contact. In a short two decades, the percentage of retirement-age citizens living within ten miles of their children, in the same neighborhood with any relative or having a good friend living nearby dropped by double digits. It’s easy to see how that leads to greater loneliness down the road.

I’ve been thinking the best advice one could give you, tomorrow’s leaders, might be, “Turn off, tune out, drop in.” As in turn off the phone more often, tune out the video screen and drop in personally on friends, old and new. The same research that is documenting the loneliness epidemic reveals ways to immunize one’s self against it. Geographic rootedness makes a difference; people who live in the same community for extended periods are far less likely to be lonely. The great C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods…the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young person about where to live, I [would] say ‘sacrifice almost everything to live near your friends.’”

Having a religious affiliation also correlates strongly with feelings of connectedness. And nothing statistically reduces the chance of loneliness more than marriage, especially marriage with children.

Excerpted from commencement address by Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., to graduates of Purdue University. Mr. Daniels is the President of Purdue University and a former governor of Indiana .

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