Grey matters – The power of a smile

A feeling of loneliness has often attached itself to us at various stages of our lives.

Perhaps in childhood as an only child with busy parents, or in moving to a new area and school and leaving friends behind. Perhaps not being able to make friends in teenage years or moving to a new country with a new job, or perhaps after the breakup of a marriage or death of a partner. Sadly some people live longer than their contemporaries and it can be difficult to make new friends.

Loneliness is rather complex and is usually described as an unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. It is more than that though because loneliness can be felt even when we are surrounded by other people. We need to feel connected to people, to have a sense of belonging, to experience the warmth of friendship, to be understood and appreciated, to know we have friends we can call on in times of difficulty and who will not judge us adversely.

Loneliness has existed in every society, in marriages, relationships, families, among so called successful and unsuccessful people as well as among people living on their own. However in spite of “networking” being a buzz word of today it seems that more and more people are experiencing loneliness.

Most of us need a certain amount of solitude to recharge our batteries, to think, to rest and reflect but that is different from the emotional ache that comes with loneliness. Loneliness can be hard to quantify but some recent studies suggest that too many people have no one with whom to spend their free time or discuss important matters with. In the UK, research by Age UK shows half a million people over the age of 60 spend each day alone without social interaction and almost half a million more see and speak to no one for five to six days of the week. Within developed nations, loneliness has shown the largest increase among seniors and can lead to depression.

I believe most families care deeply about their elderly parents and relations but in today’s world the working day consumes energy and time. The end of the day or week leaves little time to catch up on all the immediate family matters that have to be taken care of – housework, lawn and garden, shopping, children’s sports and so on. Then it is time to begin a new work week again. Retirement villages fill a need for relationships as well as security but even there I have met people who long to be remembered by their families. They know their families are busy but they still need to know they are loved and appreciated.

So this is a plea to remember your elderly relatives, visit them regularly if you can or phone or send them a note. They will so appreciate it. And don’t forget the elderly in your street, maybe they need a quick visit, a phone call to see if they are okay and definitely a smile and a hello when you pass them at the local shops.