What Causes Loneliness?

Brilliance | Dec. 18, 2017

Certain genetic markers seem to contribute to loneliness, resulting in some people feeling lonelier than others in the same situation.

Why This Matters

Although lonely feelings can seem based in an external reality—you feel left out because your friends didn't invite you along with them, you don't have enough emotional support because your family lives far away—research shows that's not always the whole story. In 2016, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine examined the genomes of more than 10,000 people to identify the genetic basis for why one person might me more likely to feel lonely than another in the same situation. Their results? Roughly a quarter of someone's risk for loneliness comes down to genetics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also found that this genetic tendency for loneliness was associated with a greater risk for depression.

Why It's Important

If you think you're in the genetically lonely camp, it can be tempting to throw up your hands and give up—you can't control your genes, after all. But the fact that two people can have the same number of friends or be in the same social situation and only one will feel lonely should demonstrate the power of perspective when it comes to your outlook on life. Did your friends not invite you because they don't like you, or did they know you have a lot of work to catch up on? Does the fact that your family lives far away mean you're destined to be without a shoulder to cry on, or does it just mean you need to call them more often? Reframe your perspective, and you may begin to feel less alone.

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