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Just Say Hello: The Powerful New Way to Combat Loneliness
It's a simple greeting, but its power is profound: Science reveals that social interaction can help us live healthier, happier, and longer lives. Yet too many of us are missing out on chances for connection. Sanjay Gupta, MD, reports on an epidemic quietly sweeping society—and why we should all speak up.
Speak up
Illustration: Jeong Suh, Bryan Christie Design
Her loneliness was worst at night. As soon as her head hit the pillow and darkness surrounded her, she'd be engulfed in a longing she couldn't shake. Morning wasn't much better: another day, another forced smile as she tried to mask the emptiness she felt inside.

Over the past year as I've investigated the human impact of loneliness, the stories I've uncovered have stopped me cold. In part because I never expected to hear them from the people in front of me, people with no outward hint of a problem. But mostly because the descriptions of their sense of isolation were so heartbreaking: "It's unceasing, toxic, brutal." "I feel invisible." "It's like living with a hole smack in the center of your chest—a hollow feeling." "My loneliness magnifies every pain in my body."

According to estimates by University of Chicago psychology professor John T. Cacioppo, PhD, coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, at any given time at least one in five people, or roughly 60 million Americans, suffers from loneliness. By this I mean both the acute bouts of melancholy we all feel from time to time, as well as a chronic lack of intimacy—a yearning for someone to truly know you, get you, see you—that can leave people feeling seriously unmoored.

As researchers have discovered, loneliness is hardly just a social issue; its physical impacts are among the most profound in modern medicine. Air pollution, obesity, and excessive alcohol use have been found to increase a person's mortality risk by 6, 23, and 37 percent, respectively. Loneliness may increase your risk by a shocking 45 percent. And it's not just the body that suffers: A study published in 2012 found that older lonely people are 64 percent more likely to develop dementia than their more connected counterparts are.

How can your social life have such a dramatic impact on your health? The oft-repeated theory is that friends encourage us to take care of ourselves and they step in when we're not feeling well; however, research shows that the dynamic may play out on a deeper level: Cacioppo was part of a team that discovered loneliness may actually alter genetic activity in the body. In people who felt as though they had few social connections, the researchers found that certain genes linked to inflammation were overexpressed, while other genes involved in antiviral responses were suppressed. Being lonely, it turns out, can literally make you sick.

But what has captured my attention in particular is the literal pain of loneliness. A remarkable study led by Naomi Eisenberger, PhD, an associate professor of social psychology at UCLA, found that being excluded—which can push you to the social perimeter and, as a result, cause feelings of loneliness—triggered activity in some of the same regions of the brain that register physical pain. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense; our prehistoric ancestors relied on social groups not just for companionship, but for survival. Staying close to the tribe brought access to shelter, food, and protection. Separation from the group, on the other hand, meant danger. Today when we feel left out, our bodies may sense a threat to survival, and some of the same pain signals that would engage if we were in real physical danger are flipped on. In the chronically lonely, levels of the stress hormone cortisol shoot up higher in the morning than in more socially connected people and never fully subside at night. As a result, a person can be left feeling fatigued, edgy, and irritable.

Next: The gap between us may be growing
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    9 Comments
    Marie Talbot
    21 hours ago
    I have never experienced loneliness until this past winter in an isolated town. I've tried to explain it to friends and some get it, some don't. My son lives in this town with his wife yet most of what they do includes her family. Nights are the worst, weekends too. What I am going to do is move to a city where I can find employment and volunteer work. What I also realize that while I reached my dream of a PhD in education, I stopped seeing my friends and family members because I was obsessed with this dream coming true. This has to be the worst thing I've experienced and my studio apartment now feels like a coffin; the walls seem to get smaller and smaller each day. I'm grateful for the opportunities I do have and know the isolation of a small town has added to my loneliness. Looking forward to a new life this summer and I will get myself out of this mess. HELLO to all reading this!
    Denise Bowen Zirkelbach
    1 day ago
    I love this campaign....have you ever heard John Prine's song, " Hello In There "....when I heard about the campaign, I instantly remembered that song. You can hear it on You Tube:)
    Patty Burke Butler
    1 day ago

    On St Patrick's Day I went to Starbucks with my sister.  The woman in front of me got to talking about celebrating the day and being of Irish decent.  I rarely talk to strangers like that.  As she was struggling to get her money out, I said I would buy it for her.  She was surprised and grateful.  But, believe me I got more out of it than she did.  I felt  great for the rest of the day.  Just say hello.

     

    ShoeGirlsCloset
    1 day ago
    I had no idea there were this many people around this world that felt this way. I will make it my mission to "Just Say Hello" to even more people as I go about my day. Hoping everyone feels better each and every day! Hello :)
    Karen Lagrasse
    1 day ago
    Just yesterday while taking a walk, and having resigned to that loneliness will be my life, a lady passed by and said "hello, how are you".  She didn't stop to chat any further, but  I said to myself, Thankyou Lord, for putting her in my path today, if for no other reason but it gave me hope.
    Sandi Stevenson
    2 days ago
    I want to tell everyone my Just day Hello story. . About two months ago The residents where I work (Scarlet Oaks Retirement Community) we stated this campaign.   I explained the concept of saying hello to people you would not ordinarily speak to.  They have now been doing this for about 2 months almost...It's been wonderful.. They have been  speaking to people all over...Now it has cause for people to speak to them first...What a delight...We are continuing to say Hello to everyone one...Until we reach as many people as possible.    So everyone remember to Just Say Hello! 
    Sandi Stevenson
    2 days ago
    Hello everyone..It was a beautiful day  here in Cincinnati Ohio... No more snow
    Brown Wildra
    5 days ago
    let me start off by saying hello I find myself just walking up to people starting a conversation with the person who is with me say to me do u know them no... stranger I love people spiritually morality just someone well being to share a smile that does a lot for anyone
    IntuitionHost
    6 days ago
    I definitely love this article. Good thing I meditate and share my intuitions! 

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    Join Our Mission to Just Say Hello!
    We've partnered with Skype to combat loneliness and encourage more face-to-face interaction. Here's how to reach out and connect. It's easy. It's free. And it can change someone's life—even yours.
    Just Say Hello
    Photo: Chris Craymer/Trunk Archive

    Say Hello!


    Wherever you are at this very moment, find someone to connect with. Maybe it's the person sitting next to you on the bus, the coworker in the office a few feet away, or a neighbor just down the street. Whoever it is, we want you to start a conversation today.

    Send Your Story of Connection to Us


    Tell us about a hello you gave or received by posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Vine using the hashtag #justsayhello—and see stories of connection from around the world here. You can also send us a Skype video message by following these instructions:
    • You must be over 13. Not 18? Please ask your parents' permission.
    • Don't have Skype? Visit Skype.com and set up an account. It's free and it'll just take a minute. Then follow the instructions below to submit a Skype Video Message.
    • First, sign in to Skype.
    • Next, add “Skype.JustSayHello” to your contacts.
    • Then select the name, press the plus sign, and then select “Send video message.”
    • Next, tap the record button to tell us how you said hello!
    • You can record a video message of up to three minutes, which can be previewed prior to sending. If you'd like to, you can delete and re-record until you are completely happy with it.
    • When you are ready, simply click on the envelope icon to send your video message.
    • You can record a Skype video message on your smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer as long as you have a built-in or external camera attached.

    Share a Virtual Hello


    Though you can't always be close to the people you need to reach out to most, using Skype can help keep your connections strong. "It's easy to chat on the phone, but nothing beats being able to see another person's face," says Amy Rosenstein. She uses Skype to stay connected with a friend of nearly 30 years who relocated to Hong Kong in 2009. "We'll have coffee ‘together' during some of our calls—it's almost like we're sitting at the same table. The distance between us immediately fades away."

    Use Social Media for Good


    We all know that social media can leave us feeling detached, but experts agree that the online world doesn't have to isolate us—if we use it the right way. In fact, the average user of a social-networking site has more close ties and is half as likely to be socially isolated as the average American, according to a pew poll. "Speaking face-to-face is always best, but online is better than nothing," says University of Chicago psychology professor John T. Cacioppo, PhD. "When you use social media as a way to promote richer interactions in the real world, that's a very good thing." the bottom line: It's okay to start the conversation online—as long as you don't let it end there.

    Just Say Hello

    Comment

      11 Comments
      green11NYC
      3 days ago
      I ramped up my "daily hellos" after first reading the article and the response has been wonderful.  And this was on the streets of NYC and in quite blustery weather!  So many new acquaintances that I now look forward to seeing; employees in stores, people walking their dogs, an endless list.  Happy to report that this really does work and people respond so positively - spreading a little bit of joy each day.
      DuRai Bollack
      5 days ago
      I grew up in Baltimore City, I moved to Neelyville, Mo. I was amazed that everyone said hello to each other. Even sitting on our porch people driving by would wave, and I didn't know any of them. It was a truly warm and wonderful thing... I am back in Baltimore after eleven years, and I say Hello to everyone I pass on the street, (or good morning). This is a good thing you are doing, I know how it made me feel... Thanks for getting a good thing into action, a few words mean a lot to some people.
      Jacquelyn Bauer
      7 days ago
      Oprah Please come to Pittsburgh PA. Here we always talk to strangers. We say Hello and How are you and we MEAN How are YOU!!. Then we actually Listen to your answer.  So often when people, who are new here or just visiting, are asked to give their impressions of Pittsburgh the 1 thing they mention most is that Pittsburghers are just so friendly.  So Please come and let us show how this can make a whole city a great place to live. Thank You
      April Brown Porter
      7 days ago

      hello from Pittsburgh


      Livelaughlove Believehopedream
      8 days ago
      Helloooo world!
      Noel Kehoe
      21 days ago
      Hi
      diannestarzyk
      21 days ago
      My daily challenge to see how many people I can impact in one day.
      Ann Nguyen
      21 days ago
      asdfasdf
      Michelle Starves
      21 days ago
      So wonderful how much impact a simple thing can have on your life.
      Alex Dao
      21 days ago
      It's amazing how a simple "Hello" can make strangers into friends, and brighten up even the gloomiest days.
      Anonymous
      21 days ago
      We could certainly use some brighter days here!

      Advertisement

      Rapper Lil' Mama
      Dr. Mehmet Oz
      Childhood obesity is becoming a dangerous health concern in the United States, and Dr. Oz says as much as doctors and parents want to help children, influential young people, like rapper Lil' Mama, may be have more power when it comes to curbing the epidemic.

      Dr. Oz talks with Lil' Mama, who was born in 1989 as Niatia Jessica Kirkland, about her effort to go into neighborhoods and talk with young people about eating healthy. Plus, Lil' Mama talks about how being the oldest daughter of eight siblings earned her her nickname and how her mother's death from colon cancer has made her passionate about promoting health and wellness. 
      The information provided here is for entertainment and informational purposes. You should consult your own physician before starting any treatment, diet or exercise program. The opinions expressed by the hosts, guests and callers to Oprah Radio are strictly their own.

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        Living Longer
        Dr. Oz
        Since the beginning of human history, people have looked for ways to prolong life—some even seeking immortality. Although the fountain of youth remains to be found, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, traveled the globe in search of methods that people today are using to live longer and improve their well-being. Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Gupta about some of his finds, which he chronicles in his book Chasing Life.

        What is one of the most cutting-edge anti-aging procedures out there?
        Dr. Gupta says one anti-aging method is to inject the body with stem cells, but so far, he hasn't found evidence that it really works. Yet he met a group of adults in their 60s who say it's the wave of the future. "They say it slackened their hair, increased their muscle mass, lowered their body fat, gave them more vigor, tightened their skin—everything—and I couldn't independently validate that," he says.

        Are supplements worthwhile?
        Apart from taking a good multivitamin and possibly fish oil, Dr. Gupta says supplements aren't really worth it. He says science has yet to effectively transfer the "good stuff" from food sources and convert them into pill or supplement form in a way that the body can actually benefit. "Something gets lost—it doesn't all transfer," he says. "What you're taking in the pill—it really does not approximate what you could otherwise get in food." In addition, he says supplements are not adequately regulated and could potentially be harmful.

        The people of Okinawa, Japan, live longer than anyone else in the world. Why is that?
        Dr. Gupta says Okinawa has the highest concentration of centenarians than any other place in the world for a number of reasons. For starters, they eat a plant-based diet, including lots of tofu and water-rich foods rather than calorie-dense ones.

        The Okinawan cultural habit called hara hachi bu, which means you eat only until you are 80 percent full, also plays a big role in longevity, Dr. Gupta says. "It means you never satiate yourself when you're eating, you never stuff yourself," he says.

        Perhaps the most important component of the Okinawans long life span is the way they approach aging. "Elders as they get older are actually more respected, more revered, as they get up in years," Dr. Gupta says. "Aging is not treated as a disease and you are not discarded when you get to 65. In fact, there is no word for retirement in Japanese."

        The practice of ikigai, meaning "sense of purpose," is a huge part of their philosophy of life that contributes to living longer, Dr. Gupta says. "As you get older, your sense of purpose becomes more strongly defined. You become a true elder in the community you integrate with younger people all the time."

        Do you think calorie restriction—eating about one-third less calories than what's considered normal—is one of the futures for longevity?
        "[Calorie restriction] appears to be the only proven way to actually extend lives, at least in animals," Dr. Gupta says. "Mice and rats who are calorie deprived do appear to live about 35 percent longer."

        Dr. Gupta says some researchers theorize that the human body releases stress-busting substances when you consume fewer calories. "When you calorie deprive yourself, you seem to release some of these substances and it seems to protect you against the stresses of life," he says.
        The information provided here is for entertainment and informational purposes. You should consult your own physician before starting any treatment, diet or exercise program. The opinions expressed by the hosts, guests and callers to Oprah Radio are strictly their own.

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          I'm Making It: Activities for Weeks 1 and 2
          As a part of her program I'm Making It, Sandra Magsamen shares daily activities that will help you live a happier life.
          Woman with journal
          Photo: Jupiterimages/Thinkstock
          Day 1
          Make an I'm Making It journal.

          This journal can be made from any book you want you use. It will house your thoughts, drawings, ideas, lists, pictures and anything you want to add as you make your life each day.

          You can purchase a list pad from a store, a simple composition book, a leather-bound book or an illustrated journal. Choose something that you think is beautiful. On the front or on the first page, stamp, write or cut out letters that identify the use of this book, I'm Making It.

          Use your journal to record your thoughts, feelings, ideas and resolutions. Make this your workbook of sorts, and use it to store and keep safe the precious insights and learnings you discover this year.


          Day 2
          Make a list of what you believe in.

          At the top of the page write, stamp or collage the words "I Believe In..." and then start writing. Don't censor yourself—list everything and anything that comes to your mind! When you are finished writing, take a deep breath and read each line slowly to yourself and really listen to what matters to you.

          Pay attention to themes, repeating ideas and patterns. Use this day as an opportunity to learn about yourself.


          Day 3
          Make yourself open to all the possibilities that can live in every day.

          Say to yourself each morning, "Today I get to..." Think of each day as a gift that is to be unwrapped. Each breath, each step, each activity of the day is a treasure. Every new day brings with it endless possibilities for new experiences and continued growth.


          Get your activities for days 4 and 5

          PAGE 1 of 6

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