I just read this piece by Walter Kirn, (who wrote the novel "Up in the Air," now a George Clooney movie) on his pre-Christmas "balsam scented loneliness" and had to pass it on. Last year Mr. Kirn was divorced, his kids were with their mother and his brothers and sisters were far away.
This is what he wrote:
…before I reveal what happened next, I’d like to touch on a study
that came out recently concerning the contagiousness of loneliness. An
article in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology presented
the argument that feelings of sadness and isolation can spread from the
folks who are feeling them not only to their friends but also to their
friends’ friends. And while these findings seem odd at first (aren’t
the lonesome lonely because they lack friends?), the University of Chicago psychologist who is behind them says that they make sense.
say for whatever reason — the loss of a spouse, a divorce — you get
lonely,” the study’s principal author, John T. Cacioppo, told The
Washington Post. “You then interact with people in a more negative
fashion. That puts them in a negative mood and makes them more likely
to interact with other people in a negative fashion, and they minimize
their social ties and become lonely.”
Call this, if you will, the Viral Bummer Theory.
Which is why starting before Thanksgiving I talk with my patients
about what their plans are for the holidays and how they are coping. For many it's a no brainer. They
are looking forward to the usual family gathering and it's all good.
For others it's not so easy and I ask for details. Even in the bosom of family a person can still be lonely. We discuss Plan A and Plan B, social safety nets and holiday survival protocol if needed. After that's established, we wish each other a happy holiday and say, "See you in the New Year."
Mr. Kirn's true story of holiday loneliness and how he turned to Facebook for comfort is a sweet Christmas treat. I don't want to give the story away; it will take you all of ten minutes to read. Grab a hot drink (mine was mulled apple cider), sit in your comfiest chair and enjoy.