Being Alone and Feeling Lonely Are Different Things

a bird sitting alone on power lines
Image by nimble photography / CC BY

Can you be lonely with others around? And does being alone naturally lead to loneliness?

I’ve wondered these very same things myself. And so have others apparently — because there was a large study on loneliness last year looking into these issues and other matters related to it.

A Large-Scale Study on Loneliness

In 2018, the BBC initiated a national study of loneliness in collaboration with resarchers at the University of Manchester, Brunel University London, and Exeter University. After asking 55,000 people about loneliness, they found a number of interesting findings. Here are just a few:

  • The youngest segment studied (ages 16-24) were the loneliest. A full 40% of this age group indicated they were often or very often lonely. This is markedly higher than the full-study average of 33%.
  • The loneliest people scored highest on empathy.
  • Lonely people have lower trust of others and have lower expectations of their friends.
  • Being alone and feeling lonely are different things. More than 80% of study participants reported enjoying time spent on their own, and only about a third of those surveyed said that loneliness was about being on your own.
  • It is worth noting, however, that those who reported always being alone were significantly more likely to report being lonely. This seems to suggest that while being alone and feeling lonely are different things that they are closely related nonetheless. (Which actually makes a lot of sense.)
  • People living alone were only slightly more likely to feel lonely more often. This finding suggests that living alone isn’t as much of a risk factor if you find other ways to spend time with other people.
  • Lonely respondents indicated that the time of day they felt most lonely was the evening.

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The findings about lonely people having high empathy, low trust, and low expectations of friends do lead me to wonder if lonely people are those who have been hurt by friends in the past.

In any event, a very interesting study in an area that I’ve found many frankly don’t want to talk about.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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