If you struggle with loneliness — and so many of us do, at time or another — you might find relief in an unexpected place. A new study in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that the key to feeling less lonely may be to stop focusing on how lonely you feel and start focusing on other people.
The study tracked 230 adults from 2002 to 2013, asking them questions on loneliness and self-centeredness every year. The study found something interesting — being lonely in one year predicted feeling self-centered in the next year. Not only that, being self-centered in one year also predicted being lonely the next year — though the link wasn't as strong. This close connection between loneliness and self-centeredness remained in place even when they took into account other factors, like how depressed the participants were feeling. So it seems like the link is really legit.
"If you get more self-centered, you run the risk of staying locked in to feeling socially isolated," John Cacioppo, study co-author and a professor in psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. So what do you need to do? Well, all you can do is find a way to break the cycle.
And the easiest way to break the cycle? Well, the study suggests that focusing on the welfare of others might do the trick, though they said more research would need to be done. But it makes sense. Often feelings of being lonely, much like with depression, can make it difficult to see outside of our own bubble. We're so focused on how lonely we feel that we actually cut ourselves off from the outside world. Because we feel like nobody understands us, that we're the only person who ever felt this way. If we can manage to look around and remind ourselves how much we care about the people around us, we can break out of our self-centeredness — and our loneliness.
Sure, it's easier said than done. When we're struggling or hurting it feels very isolating and totally unique to us. But this study shows us the importance of pulling our heads out of the sand and remembering that there are people out there who need us. It can help give us perspective.
So next time that you feel lonely, try reaching out and being there for someone else. Not only will you be forcing yourself to interact with the world, you may just break the cycle.