Feeling lonely is a universal human experience. The painful emotion can strike us at any age, regardless of our gender, income level, background, or achievements.
In that moment of loneliness, we feel disconnected from others, untethered, and isolated. The feeling is uncomfortable and distressing.
Lonely in France
I can write about loneliness with a certain level of expertise since I’ve had some recent (and painful) experiences with the feeling.
As some of you may know, at age eighty, I moved to France after my husband passed away. My deep roots in the community where I lived for thirty years were torn up. I had few possessions since I took very little with me.
Once in France, I experienced the loneliness that comes with isolation from the familiar, made even worse by my lack of French language skills.
I no longer had responsibilities to occupy my time since my apartment was tiny and I lived alone. I ate most of my meals with family nearby, so I didn’t need to cook. My role as a caregiver was over, I had no garden to tend to, and I hadn’t yet found a place to play tennis.
My Raison d’Être
What saved me from succumbing to mind-numbing loneliness was writing. For years, I had promised myself that I would finish drafting my novel, Blackbird, which I had started in 1965. Now that I had time, I could write to my heart’s content.
I also started a blog at my grandson’s suggestion and continued writing a monthly column for the Union. Writing became my raison d’être.
When I finished writing Blackbird, I realized it was the first book in a quartet. Now driven to complete my self-imposed task, I wrote the second book, My Mother’s Daughter, and then the third, The Perfect Mother. Now I am writing the fourth book, The First and Last Lesson.
I am fortunate that my purpose in life—writing—is satisfying enough so that I can manage my loneliness.
Not 100 Percent Foolproof
That’s not to say I didn’t have periods of intense loneliness where I missed my husband, my friends back in the US, and my beautiful home with its majestic tall trees. But however painful being alone was in the moment, I could always find relief by returning to writing.
My experience was validated by a recent report in Neuroscience News based on research from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Tilburg University in the Netherlands.
The researchers arrived at three conclusions:
- Loneliness was less common among people who led purposeful lives, no matter their ages.
- Activities with others were not required for a sense of purpose. Some purposeful lives involved social interactions. Others (like mine) did not.
- Having a purpose in life was especially crucial for adults aged seventy and older—a period of life often associated with loneliness.
After reading the report, I could better understand that my commitment to writing enabled me to successfully navigate the culture shock of moving from northern California to the South of France. Others find purpose in a hobby, such as gardening, or in joining an organization that contributes to the well-being of their community, state, nation, or planet.
How to Find a Purpose
If you are reading this and thinking, “What should I do if I don’t have a sense of purpose?”, I suggest that you find others with a vision. Supporting the efforts of your friends, neighbors, or even strangers would surely be rewarding for all parties. There are also many hobbies to explore, from learning a new language to playing the ukelele to calling shut-ins.
I hope you’ve found your raison d’être—or will find it—and that you can enjoy the benefits of a purposeful life.
(Cover photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash)