As a behavioral scientist who studies basic psychological needs, including the need for meaning, I am convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness. Fully addressing it will require an understanding of how recent changes in American society — changes in the direction of greater detachment and a weaker sense of belonging — are increasing the risk of existential despair….
Critically, studies indicate that it isn’t enough to simply be around or even liked by other people. We need to feel valued by them, to feel we are making important contributions to a world that matters. This helps explain why people can feel lonely and meaningless even if they are regularly surrounded by others who treat them well: Merely pleasant or enjoyable social encounters aren’t enough to stave off despair.
All of which brings us to the changing social landscape of America. To bemoan the decline of neighborliness, the shrinking of the family and the diminishing role of religion may sound like the complaining of a crotchety old man. Yet from the standpoint of psychological science, these changes, regardless of what you otherwise think about them, pose serious threats to a life of meaning.
Consider that Americans today, compared with those of past generations, are less likely to know and interact with their neighbors, to believe that people are generally trustworthy and to feel that they have individuals they can confide in. This is a worrisome development from an existential perspective: Studies have shown that the more people feel a strong sense of belongingness, the more they perceive life as meaningful. Other studies have shown that lonely people view life as less meaningful than those who feel strongly connected to others.
— Kalmen (@karlemenous) June 23, 2018