There’s currently an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. One in 11 Americans aged 50 or older lacks a spouse, partner, or living child, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. That’s 9% of the 50+ population – up to 8 million Americans – that are missing key sources of companionship in old age.
Loneliness is unfortunate on an emotional level, but it’s actually dangerous on a physical level, too. Clinicians believe that “being lonely” has the same negative health implications as smoking 15 cigarettes or having 6 alcoholic drinks a day! Simply put, being lonely is physically and emotionally devastating. And many of these situations occur unexpectedly; while most couples would prefer not to dwell on it, the reality is that being single as an older adult isn’t always a choice.
Only you can manage the risk of loneliness, but you have the chance to do something about it now. How? By choosing to invest in relationships and spending time and resources on what you love.
It’s worth it. After a decade-long bull market in financial assets, many people (especially those who have been prudent in saving and building wealth) are actually in much better financial shape than they think. If you’re in this category, congratulations: you’ve built wealth wisely. Now, it may be time to deploy your money thoughtfully. By doing so, you can enrich your life, decrease your chances of loneliness, and increase the probability of you being more fulfilled.
What might that look like – and how did we get here in the first place?
Let’s take a look.
How We Got Here: The Societal Factors Behind the Loneliness Epidemic
As the baby boomers reach retirement, this population’s risk of loneliness is only increasing.
A large part of that may be due to generational values: baby boomers have historically championed individuality, and they’ve made life choices that have born this value out in forgoing children and opting away from marriage.
25% of baby boomers are divorced or never married. Around 16-17% live alone.
Eventually, this poses problems. Being independent and “doing your own thing” may sound great in your 40-50s, but when you get older, it can become harmful. Isolation and lack of community lead to higher rates of depression, cognitive decline, and dementia. Contrastingly, social relationships positively influence blood pressure, the immune system, and improve compliance with prescribed medications.
Essentially, when you have a close community of loved ones, you have something to live for. Developing those connections is critical to your well-being. Whether you’re single or married, this means that if you’ve built wealth, spending it to strategically build community is likely a wise choice.
Ideas to Minimize the Risk of Loneliness and Build a Community
There are countless ways to build community, but they all involve dedicated action via a choice to get involved. If you’re looking for ways to counter loneliness, here are a few possible steps to consider.
Invest yourself in a community. By this I don’t mean only a financial investment, but also a personal one. Invest your time and energy in developing a community of caring, like-minded souls around you. This will pay off in the long run.
If you have trouble doing this, consider it a red flag. Many people don’t give themselves permission to develop these critical components of their lives, only to find that, when they look back, they regret not doing more.
Sing more. If you’re at all musically inclined, organized singing groups are worth a look. Historically, singing has been linked to community. It’s a key part of corporate worship that unites many people of faith, and songs from “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “We Are Family” have been sung with the intent to bring people together. Whatever your musical tastes, there’s a good chance you can find a choral group to get involved with – the activity’s gained increasing popularity within the last decade.
And singing’s even good for you from a health perspective, too. Research shows that it increases lung capacity and benefits the heart through stress reduction.
Cook more. Cooking and eating have historically been highly social activities. From a health perspective, that’s a good thing. People tend to eat healthier when eating together, and the social interactions shared around mealtime are some of the most impactful in terms of fostering connections.
Whether you choose to get involved in a cooking class or to make a regular habit of cooking for friends, family, or acquaintances, food is better enjoyed in community. So, be intentional about engaging in one.
Do more of what you love – pursue a hobby. Regardless of the relative obscurity of your interests, there’s a near certainty that you can find community around them if you look hard enough. I was reminded of this myself when I attended “Astronomy on Tap,” a lecture series at a local brewery. I went expecting 20 attendees; there were over a hundred fellow amateur astronomers there. I had no idea such a community existed, and if I hadn’t taken action and attended the events myself, I still wouldn’t.
Give more. Financially, too. In other words, don’t rationalize inaction for financial reasons. I encourage my clients to give themselves permission to spend money on these things, and I even recommend that my clients make social activities part of their annual financial budget.
It makes sense from a personal perspective. It even makes sense from a financial perspective.
The Bottom Line
Loneliness is a real issue and it can be devastating.
If you’re wary of loneliness in the future, take heart: you have the chance to do something about it now. Choose to invest in relationships. Spend time and resources on what you love. It’s worth it.
As you consider your strategy, working with a financial advisor may be helpful. It can offer people permission to spend money on themselves in order to build the ties that will ultimately keep them happy. Now and then this nudge is needed. For instance, I sometimes encourage my clients to indulge in their dreams by spending the wealth they’ve accumulated in substantive ways that give them joy – like committing to a community or finally purchasing a vacation home for the family to enjoy.
So, if you are concerned you don’t have a great strategy to do what you want to do, consider checking in with a financial adviser who can confirm what is (and what is not) financially prudent. Thoughtful financial advice may enable you to give yourself permission to spend the money that builds the ties that will ultimately keep you happy (and healthy).
The bottom line is that deploying your money to enrich your life increases the probability of you being more fulfilled. You can do this in a way that decreases your chances of loneliness.
And really, you should.