In neuroscientist John T. Caccioppo’s book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection”, brain scans, blood pressure, and immune functions are studied to show how social interaction is powerful enough to change DNA replication and alter states of well-being, behavior, and perceptions about the self for the better. I read this book to cope with some depression after I had just been laid off from my second job out of college and I was feeling a lack of purpose. I had wondered why this dramatic shift in my life suddenly made me feel less motivated, and then I realized I had had a lot more valuable social interaction the year prior when I fell sixty feet off a cliff during a hiking accident and broke my neck, ankles, feet, jaw, and teeth. The overwhelming support from close friends and relatives surrounded me daily in the ten months that I recovered, and it is because of them, and several doctors, that I was able to heal as quickly as I did.
I was feeling the happiest I had ever felt and I was stuck in neck and leg braces, with dentures as substitutes for my teeth. A friend of mine had visited me and asked me to perform with him in a comedy sketch show, and I agreed, despite the fact that I had never performed comedy before. I didn’t feel any sense of fear, embarrassment or lack of confidence; rather, I felt I had nothing to lose because I had his support. That night changed me forever, because the audience’s response was not only compassionate, but also embracing enough that I continued to perform even after that night. I felt confident about what I was doing on stage because people felt connected to my story. Whether it was pity that the audience felt, or a genuine feeling that I was funny, it helped that I enjoyed being around comedians, because this is what made the act of performing fulfilling.
I talk to a lot of comedians now, both experienced and just starting out, and many of them share a common sense of loneliness and depression. They go on stage and practice telling jokes to whoever will listen, even if it’s at an open mic, because it’s a time that they get to have some social interaction not only with fellow comedians, but also strangers. However, this act of performing does not necessarily cure loneliness. It is important for the performer to truly connect with someone in a meaningful way in order for the act of going out, performing, and meeting people to be effective. In my own process of healing, I found that it wasn’t the quantity, but the quality of friends and fellow compatriots, that helped me build a sense of resiliency. Flash forward to my period of unemployment, and the less I surrounded myself with my closest friends because I feared that my depression would bog them down. Reading “Loneliness” made me realize that only meaningful relationships can make a person feel less depressed, and the more shared interests that a person can share with another, the better his/her mental state will be.
The time and energy you spend with other people is valuable. If you feel exhausted and over-extended after a social interaction, the relationship with that person will not necessarily be nourishing to your mentality. Surround yourself with people that you have a true connection with, and you will most likely feel less lonely, more energized, motivated, and happy about living.
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