I am currently following another free online University course – this one on The Science of Happiness by Berkeley University USA (See EdX.org). The course gives some statistics on the rise of loneliness in the West which has increased significantly over the last 30 years. The science is revealing that loneliness not only affects our emotions and happiness levels, but also heightens stress and harms sleep and our immune system.
Clearly loneliness hits all ages, but seniors can suffer greatly when they lose partners or when family members are not close or available for all sorts of reasons.
I have been reading about some interesting ways to combat loneliness. One is an initiative by an Age UK carer who has printed some bright and attractive ‘Happy to Share’ table cards and placed them around cafés in Devon. The cards encourage strangers to indicate their willingness to spend some time chatting with others over a cup of coffee or tea. I have heard of a similar idea before, for travellers to place a sign on their table stating that they are tourists, their mother tongue and their hopes to talk to locals on their journey. Of course we don’t need a sign to open ourselves up to connection with other people, but some of us might not want to intrude without a signal that the other person is open to our overture.
The article is here : Age UK article and the sign, which is free to copy, here : Happy to Share cards . Naturally, If you like this idea you could simply make your own little card, showing that you are opening your heart to others in your community.
In another article I was fascinated to learn about a different initiative, this one led by Homeshare UK in which elderly people can offer a room at a reduced rate to a younger lodger. The article and delightful video of Florence, 95, and Alexandra a 27 year old student talking about their experience of home-sharing and their friendship is here : Meet the Housemates with a 68 year age gap . Alexandra says that the scheme does not just offer her an economic advantage, but has truly given her an enjoyable relationship. Florence’s life has been transformed. Importantly, BOTH get something out of their situation. Homeshare UK reports over 200 active matches across London, Leeds and Bristol. Surely this scheme, which tackles housing problems as well as loneliness should be extended.