One of the most important moments in life is the moment you
finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed.
Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to
change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.
Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human
tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the
same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a
smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good
times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them
go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more
pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical,
self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said,
what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty
lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on
justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.
But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that
life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a
passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is:
where are your present steps taking you?
It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters
is what YOU DO from here.
Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by
finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.
Don’t be one of them!
Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about
something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you
really have control over is yourself, in this moment.
The best action you can take right now is changing your
thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.
And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path
ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several
significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing
my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial
unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is
guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches
can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.
The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can
choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next.
Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is
your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to
make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than
Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you
can master a new way to be.
film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month
featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone.
She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed,
on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.
It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old
college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of
I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my
high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and
noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.
nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more
integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved
with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.
I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six
mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular
activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your
health and a successful college experience.”
better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my
demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers
and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine,
a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my
Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I
traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news
reporting and magazine writing.
rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years
as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a
science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social
connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a
connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr.
Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary
care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with
Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these
experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in
preventable deaths by suicide.
They urged that social relationships be considered a national
public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of
But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a
third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously
lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with
especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own
lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it
can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.
The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older
adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer
the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated
However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at
Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to
the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as
a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.
“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes
enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match
that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the
risk of an early death by 30 percent.
The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise
awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma
— the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.
“We want people
to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become
engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the
film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New
York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women
said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now
wouldn’t miss a session.
In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting
together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have
little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual
support and friendship.
Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and
people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel
more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University
Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art
The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of
creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through
activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like
knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.
“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,”
Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to
yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a
great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”
Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has
had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts
say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement
exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”
rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather,
social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack
them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often
replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress
and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.
So consider making a date this week to meet a
friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online
communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common
interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with
someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.