Maybe one of the main ways music, art and nature can boost wellbeing is by drawing people together, creating common ground to share. This can help combat loneliness: and this is Loneliness Awareness Week (14-18 June).
This year’s theme is Acceptance, highlighting that everyone feels lonely sometimes. The idea is that by talking more openly about loneliness, it will be seen not as some remote condition, a cause of stigma and shame, but rather as an experience common to us all. Loneliness Awareness Week is run by Marmalade Trust, which I recently learned is the world’s only charity focusing on loneliness awareness.
That focus is so important. Stigma tends to be fuelled by ignorance, and the more people open up and recognize loneliness as part of life, the less stigma should surround it.
Loneliness can be deeply disabling, making people question themselves and making life seem blank or pointless. Loneliness is not simply being alone. Someone could be surrounded by others and still feel lonely. Research by Brunel University found that elderly people living in care homes – a communal environment – are two or three times more likely to feel lonely than elderly people who live alone. Sharing a common interest is a helpful way to truly connect with others, and this is where nature, art and music come in.
All three can help us meet and get to know like-minded people. We’re more likely to feel we understand someone else, and to feel understood ourselves, if we share common ground. Music, art and nature can help start a conversation or become a way to spend time together. Many people find art classes, walking groups or choirs and other music groups can be supportive and welcoming. Singing in particular has a strong community element. Shaing an interest can also enable connection with others online, in Facebook groups or virtual events, a lifeline for many during lockdown. It all helps us see the world through others’ eyes and share how we too see the world. And while nature, music and art mainly reduce loneliness by connecting us with other people, they also do this by focusing our minds on these interests, so that we feel less need of other people’s company.
The Loneliness Experiment which the BBC ran in 2018 found that most of the 55,000 respondants identified loneliness as being unable to talk with others, feeling disconnected and not feeling understood. Thes eare all experiences where music, art or nature could help, for example as we see that others understand and share our response to a song or to a wildlife sighting. The BBC’s Experiment also revealed that the highest rates of loneliness were found among young people aged 16-24. Sharing interests could be a welcome distraction from common causes of loneliness in younger people such as pressure to conform and the need to find their own path in the world. And while once connecting with others was built more on place, now fewer local areas have a strong community feel, so that sharing interests is all the more important to unite people.
So maybe as well as boosting awareness and acceptance of loneliness, Loneliness Awareness Week can also be an opportunity to see nature and creativity as glimmers of new connection.
Maybe you have thoughts or experiences to share in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002? Thank you.