What a lonely country Japan is – for better and for worse.
For better, say many – more than ever before. To be alone is to be free – free to do what you want when you want; free of the nuisance of having to take others into account; free to travel, pursue hobbies, develop skills, learn languages, indulge whims you’d be embarrassed to reveal to your nearest and dearest, if you had any.
It’s good that Japanese are making their peace with solitude, because solitude is upon them. As of now, one-third of all Japanese households are single-occupant. Soon, half will be.
It’s good, and yet in a sense not, says psychologist Shion Kabasawa, speaking to the business magazine President (Nov 29). There’s a connection, he warns, between solitude and suicide. “For the person who has lost all ties to society,” he says, “life can lose all meaning. Killing yourself becomes easy. On the other hand, if there’s even one person out there who really cares about you, the chances of your committing suicide go way down.”
Two-thirds of suicides, Kabasawa says, occur without the individual having talked to anyone.
But to be alone is by no means to be necessarily to be in despair, President finds. A survey it conducted of 1,300 business people, men and women, shows that many live alone by choice. Others simply happen to, and find they like it. Interestingly enough, the more friends you have, the more alone you’re likely to feel. In numerical terms: 66 percent of respondents with no friends at all say they feel lonely – as against 76 percent for those with one friend, 84 percent for those with two to five, and 87 percent for those with six to 10.
That’s counter-intuitive at first blush but makes sense on reflection: 65 percent of people with no friends say they like being alone – versus only 30 percent of those with more than 10 friends. It’s the people who don’t like being alone who put themselves out to make friends, and who feel loneliness most keenly when alone.
Two obvious alternatives to face-to-face human companionship are social media and pets. The more time you spend on social media, President observes, the lonelier you’re likely to feel. (Or is it vice-versa?) As for pets, the lonelier you feel, the more likely you are to own one. Also: the more likely you are to discover that loneliness can bring more pleasure than pain.
There’s a chicken-and-egg problem attached to social networking: Do networkers feel lonelier to begin with and consequently spend more time online? Or does spending time online somehow heighten awareness of loneliness, perhaps by betraying hopes that online friendships can be an adequate substitute for face-to-face encounters? Kabasawa poses the question without answering it.
Pets have an interesting physiological – and therefore psychological – effect on us, Kabasawa explains. Fondling your pet stimulates the brain to produce the hormone oxytocin, known colloquially as “the cuddle hormone.” Sex stimulates it too. Feelings associated with it are calm, tranquility, love. It has, in short, a lot going for it. Loneliness need not be lonely after all.
A lot depends on what you do for a living. High-income people tend to be lonelier types than those earning less – but they also tend to like being alone. Most high earners are executives, accustomed to making lonely decisions on which much depends. It’s a burden but also a thrill, if you’re up to it. If you’re not, here’s President’s advice: work in a sector where clients are likely to thank you. Teachers, doctors and welfare workers are among the loneliest professionals – they have great responsibility but get little thanks for their efforts. Journalists exert wide influence but have little direct contact with readers and viewers. At the other end of the scale are, for example, delivery personnel who stand a good chance of being thanked by everyone they deliver a package to. Their working conditions and pay may not be enviable, but gratitude, if you can get it, does have a way of brightening life.© Japan Today