Loneliness doesn’t kill, people do.

If you want to lead a healthy life and avoid disease and early death, there is an abundance of medical studies with often conflicting advice. Once coffee is bad for you, then coffee is good for you. Once wine is bad, in the next study it is good for your heart. One of the latest additions, a study published in the Public Library of Science, Medicine, makes the bold claim that loneliness increases your risk of death just as much as smoking and the consumption of alcohol do and that the influence of social relationships exceeds that of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.

While this might be welcome news for those who prefer a party in a smoke-filled room over a run in fresh air, I have my doubts.

view halfway way of the cross

Who needs other people?

First of all, from glancing over the study, it seems like it measured “loneliness” by the number and extent of social relationships of a person. This falls into the trap of confusing “being alone” with “being lonely”. I am very adamant about this distinction because I personally almost never feel lonely when I am alone, but I do sometimes feel lonely when I am in a group of people. Being alone, I always find something to do, explore, think, read or write about. But when I am in a group, it becomes more obvious that I am the odd one out, philosophically and intellectually, maybe also socially and emotionally.

If the study looks at who is married or living with someone or regularly meets other people or has more Facebook friends, it only establishes a group of people who meet more people on a regular basis than members of the other group. This alone doesn’t say much about the feeling of loneliness, which is a matter of quality rather than quantity. (After all, most of us are happier with one really good girlfriend than with 2 or 3 flings.)

On a medical level, I would like to point out that being alone should protect you from most contagious diseases. If only all these flu- and other virus-infected people were less gregarious…

If this prolongs my life, I’ll happily forego it.

The study admits to exclude deaths by suicide, accident and crime. I don’t know if more alone/lonely people commit suicide, but then I have a rather positive view of suicide anyway, so I don’t see it as something that should be prevented. But accidents are more often than not and crimes almost always caused by other people. Which would again argue for the proposition that being alone is better for your health. If there is no one else around, no one can hit, burn, shoot, maim, drown and kill you.

For me, the choice is clear: Even if being social might be life-prolonging, the time spent talking to uninteresting people or being bored at parties is not worth the investment if I can instead use the time for myself now. And this way, I will also avoid hanging out with people who might prove lethal one day.

(This article has also been published in Medium.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Life, Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Loneliness doesn’t kill, people do.

  1. John Erickson says:

    Speaking as one on the outside of groups looking in, I absolutely agree. With my wife earning the money in our household, I am alone many days, often for periods of time approaching 12 hours. I fill my “lonely” time educating myself, interacting with people over the Net, and in general, enjoying myself. I can’t tell you the number of hours I have sat in parties, especially office parties, trying to make small talk with people whose only outside-work interest was watching sports or “entertainment” TV. Sorry, guys, give me a good history website or book, an interesting movie, or a circle of internet friends discussing how to build a better battleship. And I’ll be happy being alone, and as you say, Andreas, be safe from the walking disease factories who insist they are indispensable at work, only to infect everyone around them. Besides, somebody has to stay home and walk the dog, and that’s when I go out and chat with my buddy, Blackjack the goat, who DEFINITELY keeps me from getting lonely! :D

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  3. Irena says:

    Well said (written)!
    I’d also rather spend my time alone with a good book than being at a party with wasted people. I mean, what’s the point?
    I often hear comments that I’m weird because of that, but that’s ok :) I’m happy with my way of living and I’ll continue till the day I die :)

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  5. eva52 says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the HUGE difference between being alone and being lonely plus the loneliness in a busy place where you can feel so spare. Andreas i enjoyed your post about walking the wall, particularly since having a brain tumour removed and a stroke during the operation I actually find walking a distance difficult. Sometimes I think I should just set myself a challenging goal and go for it and just keep going.


  6. dessert says:

    The thing that most people won’t admit is they probably don’t want to be in those bars and boring parties either, but it’s FOMO – Fear of Missing Out that keeps them there. Some people just don’t like being alone with themselves. Loneliness isn’t boredom though, it may not be loneliness you feel at a party with dullards, for me, it’s more like just being bored.

    • kevinjbrazda says:

      I agree. After graduating from college, most of my time is devoted to building up my video business and I do not get nearly as much social interaction as I did in college.

  7. I personally almost never feel lonely when I am alone, but I do sometimes feel lonely when I am in a group of people.

    Ah you speak the truth.

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  10. Nancy Turner says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for someone to say, and I’m glad I’m not alone in the thought! Why should we bore ourselves away trying to look occupied and happy in a place we have no desire to be, when we could be alone having a great time? I have to say, I tend to feel lonely more regularly in a crowd of people, than when I do when I’m on my own. Thank you very much for this post! :)


  11. arbiyanti says:

    Funny how i used to feel the urge to be with other people to make me feel less lonely. Then there came one moment in my life that actually helped me finding myself. Although finding me means losing someone i love, i can only say now that there’s more of me to offer for myself and it doesn’t involve much of people in it. No, loneliness doesn’t kill me. It makes me stronger.

  12. mirrormon says:

    your third paragraph completely exactly describes me :)… but then i think we are all more alike than different actually…
    keeping all ur logical arguments aside, i do agree that being alone is more fun than being with uninteresting people… although i do believe that the world is full of interesting people too, who I can relate to and learn from….
    but i think i m in that phase these days where I am rather avoiding interaction with even friends that I would hang out day in day out previously… but then i think its always been in me, and now I m really understanding the mere fact that I don’t need anyone’s acceptance, and that if i don’t gel in then i don’t need to pretend to, and they don’t need to insist that i belong in them…
    but anyway good post… and wow u have many readers !

  13. I am a real loner…for various reasons and therefore I get what you’re saying here.

  14. I’m in agreement with you Happy Hermit. I’m alone 90% of the time and don’t feel it’s the least bit detrimental to my health!
    I’ve honestly never understood loneliness because I don’t believe i’ve ever FELT it! I suppose it must be a really uncomfortable emotion because people seem to go to great lengths to avoid it…witness the abundance of bars and dating websites!

  15. MsWarrior says:

    Depends on what a person’s take on Loneliness. If I consider it as social failure, If I think I am born to be part of people group, If I take it as a curse, If I am crazy enough to consider it as black magic, done by someone for revenge…. List is long. Then I am not happy, I am dying slowly inside, I am looking for approval, looking for range of emotions which provoked around people. I may feel lost.

  16. cftc10 says:

    Reblogged this on cftc10.

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  18. I personally almost never feel lonely when I am alone, but I do sometimes feel lonely when I am in a group of people. Being alone, I always find something to do, explore, think, read or write about. But when I am in a group, it becomes more obvious that I am the odd one out, philosophically and intellectually, maybe also socially and emotionally.

    You articulated what I feel personally, in words, in an efficient manner.

  19. seeker says:

    And then there the monks and the desert fathers, alone, by choice :D

  20. seule771 says:

    It is written cleverly like entrapment in that how can you not agree to disagree!

  21. Kavita Joshi says:

    very truly said that we can be lonely in the room full of people and can be better off in our company sometimes..I do agree..but still I do not like to be by myself many times although I am getting better at this..some people pointed out that I do not like my own company but that I didn’t really like as I do love myself..every one does that’s why when some one hurt us we don’t like it or we don’t like people who are not good to us..that means we are on our side always or mostly….but I guess its not loneliness but free mind sometimes..if its trained to see people around then its the state when you don’t see people and our mind takes it as unknown situtation..also when we are growing up we associated things with feelings and sometimes we associate no people = loneliness = being sad …I think I am answering my own question while writing here and if we can understand this and change the association with being ok with no people. example: ‘people or no people = always happy/feel good’ then things will definitely change :)

    • What happens when you are alone that makes you feel uneasy? Do you think that nobody appreciates you? Or do you feel bored? – I always have a book with me, so I don’t mind. I am actually thankful to have some time to read. And luckily, I don’t crave any appreciation from others as I am so full of myself. :-)

    • Kavita Joshi says:

      hehehe..I gues thats nice that you don’t really care but I think people affect me a lot as I have always been a people pleaser in my life whether it was home or school ..I am changing this habit by being assertive about things but still work in progress I would say…its just that being by myself at home (some confined place) makes me feel low and I am completely not sure why may be because I don’t like being idle and if I am sleeping in and have no plans and no one around to talk then it doesn’t feel very nice

    • I share the disdain of idleness and I feel very bad when I oversleep. On the other hand I feel great when I get up at 0600 or so. But I still get more done without any people around. Maybe I also don’t like other people because they slow me down.

    • Kavita Joshi says:

      I can relate to that feeling as I am pretty much the same when it comes to personal life specially as I have overcome that factor at work and I try to be a good team player over the years..but I think even for example fitness then I like to do it at my own and not involve anyone…and same with travel at times as I have been around people who like to do nothing and that really irritates me a lot. I wish I can be a morning person as I am a night owl so hard to get up early :( but I guess it’s ok ..I find it hard to just go to the beach and lie around in holidays ….things I see or do count and going to beach and do nothign doesn’t….sometimes I do relax but not very often,,I am working on understanding this though as why it is like this ..it gives me sense of achievement when I do stuff or see something new..but for many it gets hectic and I get to hear things from them then

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  23. JoV says:

    “I personally almost never feel lonely when I am alone, but I do sometimes feel lonely when I am in a group of people.” You speak the words I feel all the time. I spent most of my time being alone in my childhood and while growing up and then come adolescence and I have this friend who always insisted that I should be around her. I was uncomfortable and even resort to hiding away when she came knocking on my door.

    Unfortunately I find being in corporate world, being social is not a choice but a necessity. As a Project Manager, I find myself a very sociable and gregarious person and things get done easier that way. I know at some point I would stop being social for the sake of being sociable and become a hermit in my later years and I will look back and wonder if I am most happy I was alone or being sociable? Probably both.

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  25. Another study on this subject, pointing to a correlation between solitude and creativity: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/11/22/people-who-seek-solitude-are-more-creative-study-finds/

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  27. Karen says:

    Stumbled here by accident but i don’t believe in accidents so. Have read a few of your articles and like your perspective. Would be nice if there were more like you in this world because i just might not be so bored with the majorities of people. Same stage just different actors reciting pretty much the same lines over and over again. Smiling faces at gatherings hiding the sadness, anger, loneliness etc, etc within, which many times makes me feel a bit like a wild animal that wants to retreat back to my space where i am never lonely but alone…

    • Very well put, Ma’am.
      I feel like the problem really lies in numbers, when more than two or three people get together, people turn into actors.
      I ain’t going to none of those gatherings no more, and I have absolutely no feeling of missing out on anything. I’ll rather go for a long walk while the extended family is discussing gardening tools and prices at different supermarkets.

  28. Karen says:

    my turn now – well said, sir! Some lyrics from one of my favorite artists popped into my mind when reading your response so went to locate this song, and if you like music and have not heard then might wanna check out his “Passion” work but think this pretty much covers what’s going on in this “contact” world lol https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5B94c6CRcwU

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  31. Sandra says:

    People have hurt me in ways that no human being should ever be subject to. I have no control or understanding as to why they have set out to hurt me, only my won speculations.
    They have gone to extremes messing with my mind so they can take everything away from me.
    My ex husband stated that he can can mess with a person’s mind because no one can prove it. He was right. Now people just think I am delusional. Even when I have photos and tapes proving otherwise.
    They have tried to push me into committing suicide, which they did, but I am still here.
    I have tried to prove that I am not delusional, but when you don’t have a physical mark, no one believes you.
    Trusting people to help you, that’s the delusion.

  32. annannmulqueen@yahoo.com says:

    Very interesting to read and I agree that the world can open up to you if you want it too!

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