How many friends do you have?
While Facebook tells me I have 136 (which in social media terms is few, I know: one of my kids has ten-times as many!), I can count on my fingers and toes the number I consider true, close friends.
How many people have you actually spoken with today face to face? My count today is just three – my husband, the check-out operator, and a receptionist.
I’ve had many Messenger ‘conversations’ and a long online chat with an internet provider, plenty of text messages and many emails have come through.
Frankly, on days like this, I can feel quite isolated and I’m not alone in feeling this way either.
The rising cost of loneliness
Preliminary findings from Australia’s first Loneliness Report, conducted by Swinburne University and the Australian Psychological Society suggest about half of all Australian adults (yes 1 in 2!) feel lonely at least once a week.
Nearly 55% feel they lack companionship, at least sometimes.
One in four Australians admitted to high levels of social interaction anxiety.
And surprise surprise, the age group feeling most lonely and disconnected are those most connected via social media: 18 to 35s! According to the Loneliness Report, 62% of young Australian adults often feel lonely. Nearly 30% rarely or never feel they were part of a group of friends, no matter how many virtual friends they have!
Surprisingly perhaps, over 65s are the least lonely because, according to the study, they are socially connected ‘in the real world’, going along to tai chi or book club or men’s shed; Probus or bowls; volunteering and other ways of getting involved).
It’s not enough to say, “so sad too bad, make friends”. This is actually a crisis for Australia’s future health. Higher levels of loneliness are associated with higher levels of social interaction anxiety, less social interaction, poorer psychological wellbeing and poorer quality of life.
Loneliness costs in terms of stress which in turn compromises the immune system and adds to sleep dysfunction.
Loneliness could well be an overlooked reason for GP visits too. According to University of Queensland psychology school associate professor, Dr Genevieve Dingle, many family doctors struggle with what are called ‘frequent attendees’, the 10% of patients who account for as many as 50% of appointments. That’s led to a project called Ways to Wellness, involving UQ, Queensland Community Alliance, Mt Gravatt Men’s Shed and Mt Gravatt Community Centre, in which patients are ‘socially prescribed’ to community activities that fit their interests and help boost their health and wellbeing goals.
Laughter clubs’ health-giving roles
I’m not sure what the Ways to Wellness people have in mind for patients who’d like more lightness, laughter, and companionship in their days, but I know what my go-to is!
Laughter clubs lift spirits and heart rate, are absolutely welcoming and fun.
You don’t need to know anyone to come along. You become part of ‘the gang’ within minutes.
You don’t need to feel in a good mood.
You don’t need to know any jokes.
It’s not ageist. Anyone of any age or ability is welcome.
It’s not expensive either. Most community-based laughter clubs in Australia are free or very low cost. They’re about inclusion and accessibility.
For all these reasons, laughter clubs are a means of tackling the growing problem of loneliness and isolation.
Laughter club locations in Queensland are listed here. This link is for other Australian states. No laughter club in your community? Establish one by training as a laughter leader, volunteering to bring more joy into your community and your life.
(c) 2019 Heather Joy Campbell
Heather Joy Campbell is a certified laughter yoga teacher, professional laughter wellbeing facilitator and global ambassador of Laughter Yoga International. Brisbane-based, she runs workshops for community groups and workplaces as well as sessions in aged care, and trains people in how to be laughter yoga leaders. She runs a neighbourhood laughter club as a giveback to her community.