Life is a flower of which love is the honey – Victor Hugo
Ever have an experience of synchronicity? A week ago, a friend sent me a newspaper clipping about the global crisis in loneliness, and the very next day, another friend sent me an email about an organization called Love Letters that leaves anonymous positive notes around the community to bring kindness and hope. Coincidence? I don’t think so. These two events might seem accidental, but I believe they are of divine origin, intended to draw my attention to writing about loneliness, and about the power of random acts of kindness to remedy it.
With thanks to my two friends (you know who you are), let’s consider how these topics are connected. My hope is that you will feel inspired to help yourself and your community to close the gap between strangers sharing the loneliest century we’ve ever known.
Long before the pandemic, before social distancing, working from home, and wearing face masks, the world was already going through a loneliness epidemic. The U.K. was the first country to acknowledge it by naming a “Minister of Loneliness” in 2018. In a 2019 survey of millennials in the United States, one in five reported that they had no close friends; and in global workplaces 40% of office workers reported that they felt lonely, anxious and often thought of quitting. Current research shows that chronic loneliness is associated with increased rates of depression and is as bad for our physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Unwanted loneliness leads to a shorter life expectancy, a lower quality of life, and other serious physical, mental, and emotional consequences.
As a life coach, and a former alcohol and drug abuse counselor, I have found that we’re all social animals – we need people in our lives to help us feel like we are somebody. Most people just want to be noticed and acknowledged by others; it can be as simple as saying “hello” in the grocery store. Making the time to get to know someone, to be a part of their lives and allow them to be part of ours, is an investment that helps us each feel less lonely over time, but a simple connection, from one stranger to another, can also be a powerful and affirming antidote.
That’s where “Love Letters” comes in. Here’s how it works. Once or twice a month, a group of people gather to handwrite notes of encouragement and then leave them in random locations, including coffee shops, grocery stores, on bus and subway seats, for strangers to find. Because loneliness is so prevalent, and because handwritten notes are a lost art form that anyone can appreciate, it is an effective way to let others know that somebody out there in the community cares. (To learn more about the movement started in 2011 by Hannah Brencher, an Atlanta writer, go to www.moreloveletters.com)
Letters can include handwritten poetry, inspiring quotes, and simple words of encouragement; for example, one woman found a white envelope tucked between library books that said, “Dear Friend, if you find this letter, know that you are loved. It’s hard to fail, but it’s worse to have never tried to succeed” and a simple heart was drawn in red ink. The message was perfect at that time in her career, and she tenderly savored the warm encouragement. Then she chose to take a photo of the letter and left it where she had found it so that someone else would enjoy it, too. A circle of love left to be discovered by someone else in need.
We’ve inadvertently created a lonely world, yet even small steps can bring significant comfort and mutual dividends that warm our souls, moisten our eyes with tears of gratitude, and bolster our weary spirits. There’s a bigger picture than what we can see, and we are walking on paths that seem mysteriously destined to intersect. As Johann von Schiller, the German poet, playwright and philosopher wrote, “There’s no such thing as chance. And what to us seems merest accident, springs from the deepest source of destiny.”