IsolationIn the Portland area we had an 'arctic blast' for more than a week before Christmas in 2008 which had me staying home and indoors even more than usual. As I am unemployed right now, my volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Siddha Yoga Meditation Prison Project were all the more important, but for a couple of weeks they were all canceled. It confirmed an observation I have been considering the last few weeks which is that there are probably a series of problems which are brought on by our previously unheard of level of prosperity. Of course two well understood examples of this are over eating and lack of exercise. It seems that historically it was never realistic for very many people to live without getting plenty of exercise just doing the daily chores of life. Similarly there were never such excesses of food (and there were so many parasites and infections) that over eating and obesity was not very common. However, with our prosperity these problems have become quite common. However, I think that another problem with prosperity is the isolation that has become so prevalent. It seems that people seem to prefer the additional space, privacy and independence that comes from the nuclear family (instead of the traditional extended family) and even being single. Historically this level of independence and isolation was never possible as there were just too many demands on society to support so many people each having their own separate home. Just as we have come to understand that a healthy life must now include exercise (now scheduled as a separate activity) and restrictions on what and how much we eat (also voluntarily imposed in our prosperous society), I think that people need social interaction. People need to be challenged physically, mentally, and socially to be truly happy and healthy. Becoming a couch potato is a problem because of the absence of all these challenges. Depression has become epidemic in Western societies, perhaps because of the isolation made possible by our prosperity. As Seligman has recommended charitable acts as a vaccine against depression, I would recommend that people consciously provide for social interactions in their life just as they schedule exercise. Further, I would expect that these social interactions should not be uniformly comfortable, the polite social interactions which we routinely choose. Rather they should challenge us; having a room mate is better than living alone; being married with all the potential for conflict it brings is better still. Of course this is not to say that we shouldn't choose work, romantic partners, and friends based on comfort. We can trust that suitable challenges will present themselves to insure that we are challenged socially if we just fully engage ourselves in social interactions. In those trying moments when issues need to be resolved we should appreciate those opportunities for growth as get out of comfort zone and learn to be more respectful and compassionate to those around us. In the U.S. in particular, there has also been a notable decrease in human physical contact, much of it well justified to restrict inappropriate sexual advances. However, I believe that this is a real loss as people need physical contact to be happy and healthy. While we are unlikely to die for lack of physical contact as new borns do, that is not to say that it is not a real need that impacts our mental and physical health and happiness. While pets may be a useful addition to our lives, it would probably be better if we made a point of introducing human physical contact into our lives wherever appropriate. Isolation seems to be a self-imposed failing of our modern society and I think we would all be best served if we made a conscientious effort to increase all forms of social interaction into our lives. As humans this is a key element of a happy and healthy life. Click here to see the next rambling tale.
This page was last updated on December 25, 2008