By Shelly Bhagat, BRITE youth spokesperson
Competitive people: They’re always trying to be the star of the show, the winner of every competition, the headline of the news. Maybe you’re a competitive person in some way or another. So are a lot of other people, including me. Or maybe you’re just sick of this hyper-competitive world, and you’re just taking it easy. I totally get that, too. Either way, have you ever stopped to think why this world we’re living in is so competitive? That’s because our society praises independence above collaboration.
Recently, I listened to actress and TV host Jameela Jamil’s podcast I Weigh. In this podcast, which is primarily focused on mental health and shame, Jamil (who you might recognize from the TV show The Good Place) interviews and has vulnerable conversations with leaders, performers, activists, and influencers to challenge society’s definition of worth. In the particular episode I listened to, she interviewed former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who recently conducted a study and wrote a book, The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, about loneliness and how it impacts our physical health.
Loneliness is an extremely complex and stigmatized topic. As Murthy states in the podcast, loneliness is the feeling that we do not have enough social interaction in our lives. This feeling depends on the quality and strength of our friendships and not the number of friends that we have. For example, we often feel lonelier when we are around people who we do not connect with, as opposed to people we connect well with. Strong friendships are with people who we feel most comfortable to truly be ourselves around.
An interesting thing that I learned from this podcast is that loneliness is a natural signal, just like hunger or thirst. Back when humans lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, there was a danger of being alone, and the feeling of loneliness was a signal to remind people to interact with others. According to Murthy, when we feel lonely, stress hormones are released which cause inflammation to our bodies when loneliness persists for a long period of time. This causes us to focus on ourselves and can cause a downward spiral of self-doubt which can sometimes cause us to feel depressed or anxious. But unlike satisfying hunger or thirst, surrounding ourselves with people does not always help to ease loneliness unless we are with people we can truly connect with. The best way to keep ourselves from feeling lonely is to surround ourselves with people that make us happy that we can reach out to if we need it.
Most people tend to isolate themselves when they feel lonely, upset, or depressed. Our society prompts us to give people space when they are going through a hard time. However, Vivek Murthy critiques this and suggests that we should reach out and check on friends or loved ones who may be struggling, even if they don’t want to talk. Just taking five minutes out of your day to connect with someone (even if it’s through text or a phone call because meeting is no longer possible) can really make someone’s day or even your own and can ease someone’s, or maybe your own, loneliness.
These days, life seems to revolve around social media now more than ever since there isn’t much to do. As Jameela Jamil states in the podcast, social media has changed predominant culture in a way that it puts wealth, fame, and power in the center of our lives. While social media can help us connect with each other, it also causes some people to feel lonely as they compare themselves to other people. Our society also praises people that achieve success in their field independently, as opposed to achieving success by collaborating with others. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the many reasons why our society is so competitive. As many people try to single-handedly gain wealth and fame, they often lose touch with others, ending up too busy to have a social life, and end up feeling lonely. This also makes it hard for us to be vulnerable around others because of the personal high status we feel like we have to build. We need to question whether achieving wealth or becoming famous is more important than the social bonds we have created. We should definitely continue to work hard to achieve our goals in life, but we do still need to take time out to take care of ourselves and those we care about.
Collaborating and connecting with others is essential to creating change in this world. Humans are social creatures, and we are hurting ourselves when we force ourselves to neglect social interaction for the sake of our own success. After all, connecting with others does help us feel happier and less lonely, even if you’re an introvert like me and are perfectly happy with being alone. I highly recommend this podcast, which is available on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, to anyone who is interested in learning more about mental health, including mental health in the lives of celebrities. Stay safe, everyone!
Jamil, Jameela, host. “Vivek Murthy.” I Weigh, narrated by Vivek Murthy, season 1, episode 2, Earwolf, 10 Apr. 2020. Earwolf, www.earwolf.com/show/i-weigh-with-jameela-jamil/. Accessed 3 May 2020.