The last U.S. census figures show that one fourth of the nation's households – 27.2 million – consist of just one person. A study in the American Sociological Review in June reports that 25 percent of people feel they have no friends in whom they can confide.
Isolation and loneliness are no longer reserved for the elderly; college students to empty-nesters share these feelings.
The reasons are many.
Cellphones and the Internet make communication easy and instantaneous, but may hamper developing face-to-face relationships. Home entertainment is more readily available via cable and DVDs than in generations when the front porch and neighbors were entertainment mainstays.
What's the remedy?
One answer I've found is in the Bible. There are 19 references to Jesus' commandment to "love one another." Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, noted the importance of that idea: " 'Love one another' (I John 3:23), is the most simple and profound counsel of the inspired writer" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 572).
When I was left alone after a divorce, I had to dig deeply to stem the depression I felt day after day, alone in my apartment. I am used to working out problems by turning to the Bible and to Science and Health, so I expected to find healing messages in these books.
But as I studied, I wasn't finding any relief. No one called me.
I found that another word for love in the Bible is "charity." There is a long discussion of charity in First Corinthians 13. The first three verses mention how we can act in ways that perhaps should bring us esteem or pleasure or even friends – speak with lofty eloquence, understand lots of deep things, and even give all our possessions to the poor.
But doing those things without charity, these verses point out, doesn't satisfy. Acts without charity, it says, "profiteth me nothing."
That's a provocative statement. Acting without love doesn't gain us a little bit, or some measure of happiness; it gains us ... nothing.
And that was a pretty good description of how I was feeling – of little worth, quite depressed, and completely alone.
Mrs. Eddy was equally as direct as the Bible in linking happiness to actively loving: "The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good" (p. 518).
There is much in that statement to think about. First, basing all our activities on the fact that God created each of us complete eliminates loneliness from the start. Since God is the Father of all, then we are all related to one another. We can't encounter an individual anywhere to whom we are not related.
That one idea can change our lives. "One grand brotherhood" includes the world. Identifying everyone as brothers and sisters breaks the cycle of isolation.
What's next? I love the almost mathematical equation Science and Health gives in the second part of the statement: that by first seeing, then supplying, our brother's need, we are reciprocally blessed.
This is an equation you can prove for yourself. It begins with realizing that you are intricately connected to everyone else. And you have gifts to share.
Maybe it's as simple as listening to someone who needs to talk or calling a friend you haven't spoken to in a while. Or offering to carry in groceries or shovel a walk. Or becoming a big brother or sister. Acts of love are as endless and as varied and individual as we are.
In my case, being more active in church, taking the initiative to call friends, becoming a host for international students, all connected me with others. And that is energizing and joyful.
Each activity of love makes us feel happy and fulfilled. As that wonderful treatise in the Bible concludes: "Charity never faileth."