One way people cope with feelings of loneliness and a lack of a sense of belonging is through consumption. Contrary to what you might assume, consumption isn’t just buying tangible things—consumption includes social media, nostalgic items, and pre-owned objects. In this episode, James uncovers how consumption can inadvertently increase loneliness and make it more difficult to connect with others.
The Pitfalls of Loneliness
You’ve probably experienced loneliness at some point in your life, if not at multiple points for extended periods, which is increasingly more common. COVID-19 has also created a pandemic of loneliness and associated mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. But what exactly is loneliness?
Loneliness refers to the subjective experience of deficiencies in one’s social relationships, the sense that these relationships are lacking in quality or are unsatisfying in important ways. As you can tell by this definition, loneliness is not contingent on being physically alone. You might have “friends” that you see on a semi-regular occasion but still feel lacking that sense of connection, belonging, and safety. In contrast, someone who is socially isolated may feel satisfied with limited social connections or long periods in solitude.
Loneliness is dependent upon your individual needs and how you experience fulfillment. However, how we cope tends to look somewhat similar.
The Risk of Consumption to Cure Loneliness
One way most of us cope with loneliness is through compensatory consumption experiences. The very-normalized coping mechanism of social media, for example, is innately designed to bring you a false sense of belonging, leaving you addicted to this thing that leaves you lonelier than before. On social media, you’re met with FOMO (fear of missing out) and this constant comparison of your life to thousands of other people’s lives – but not their lives, just their highlight reels.
One risk of using products to reduce loneliness is that substituting products for genuine, human connection becomes gradually permanent. Research shows that materialism hurts one’s happiness and well-being. We need to find a happy medium—between the extreme of avoiding all products that could help us connect with others, and the other extreme of becoming overly reliant on products to satisfy emotional or social needs.