Living Painfully Lonely Lives

Living Painfully Lonely Lives

Solitude and Isolation

In the 2000 film Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays an obsessive, clock-watching businessman, Chuck Noland, who by an unexpected misfortune finds himself stranded on an isolated Pacific island. Noland copes with his four years of social disconnection and loneliness in part by befriending a volleyball, which he names Wilson. He jokes with Wilson and confides in Wilson and mistreats Wilson, and at one point he even kicks his companion out of their cave like an angry spouse. When he finally and irretrievably loses his volleyball to the ocean currents, he cries, “I’m sorry, Wilson!

Many of us might have had daydreams of fantasys about living alone, far from the commotion and pressure of modern life. But we should watch what we wish for, because in fact most of us would not fare well in such isolated conditions. This has been shown time and again: people who live lonely and disconnected lives, even smack in the middle of a modern metropolis, are more depressed, more suicidal and have more physical illnesses than the rest of us. Such longing is especially poignant at holiday time. The lonely are in effect emotional throwaways.

And how do emotional castaways cope? What cognitive tools do we have to salve the pain of loneliness? We might well do precisely what Chuck Noland knew intuitively to do. We “invent” people to keep us company, humanizing anything we can humanize, pets, supernatural beings, possibly even something as unlikely as avolleyball.

There is a more unsettling possibility, as well. If the human mind is wired to make lonely people hunger for connection, as these studies show, then the inverse is probably also true. That is, people who are not lonely, who are secure in their circle of friends and family, may be more likely to dehumanize strangers; they have no motivation to make further connections. So perhaps it’s not entirely fanciful for an emotional castaway to befriend a volleyball, but for most of us the greater risk may be treating real flesh-and-blood humans as playthings.

Nicholas Epley, Adam Waytz, and John T. Cacioppo at The University of Chicago have conducted interesting empirical research about loneliness, which you can read here: Link.

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President Bush: Its Not Such “A Wonderful Life”

President Bush: It’s A Horrible, Horrible Life!!

Maybe We Can Cheer Him Up with Some Bush Toys, Like These:

You can see the whole collection of Bush Toys here.

For anyone who wants to watch the full version of the original “It’s a Wonderful Life” you can see it here. Merry Christmas!!

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