Kristin Friberg, a Princeton Public Library librarian, has been with the library for nearly 20 years. One of her many roles as a leader in local book groups is one of her many. She worried about book club members who had become close friends over the years, and library regulars who often stopped in to chat.
She said, “It was sad that all of us thought, like, “What’s everyone doing?” and “Hope everybody’s okay,” she added. “The library feels to me like a tight-knit community space. I believe it’s an essential part of many people’s lives, that is often overlooked.”
Friberg and other library staff made phone calls to check in on people when possible
and tried to find creative ways of reaching others, such as online book clubs and outdoor story times.
Friberg stated that it was a relief to see familiar faces when in-person activities picked up again. This was an encouragement to the library to continue finding innovative ways to connect with the community.
She said, “It has broadened our minds.” It has expanded it to add dimension: trying harder to reach people who might not be coming to the library.
Because it’s more than just the physical space that is a vital source of connection. That’s what I believe is becoming quite clear.”
There has been a lot of research on the links between loneliness and social connection. But a new international survey from Gallup and Meta, an analytics company, is aiming to shed light on how connected people feel and how well they connect with others.
The researchers found that people worldwide feel a sense of social connection. However, many still require support and help from others.
Tell Davoodi is the senior social scientist at Gallup and the lead researcher for this project.
She said that the data was encouraging and suggested that we had found ways to move forward as social creatures. However, more research could help to understand how people perceive this connection. Gallup will be addressing this issue in future surveys.
The results of the survey were published in seven countries: Brazil, Egypt (France), India, Indonesia, and Mexico. Each country was surveyed by at least 2000 people, with interviews taking place between April and June.
The majority of respondents from each country felt “very” or “fairly” emotionally connected to other people, particularly Egypt where almost 9 out of 10 said they felt connected. The US was in the middle, at 75%. Brazil had the lowest sense of connection (53%).
However, at least one-third of respondents from each country indicated that they needed help or support “often” or even “occasionally” during the month.
The in-person connection still matters
In-person contact was still the best way to make friends, even amid a pandemic. According to the poll, more than one in ten people in three countries, India, Indonesia, and Mexico, said that they hadn’t interacted in person with anyone over the past week.
According to the research, at least one-third of respondents in each country indicated that they interact with other people on social media every day. However, those individuals also used other methods. This suggests that technology-based connections can supplement other forms of interaction but not replace them, according to the researchers.
Risa Wilkerson (executive director of Healthy Places by Design) stated that meaningful relationships are essential for our social health, and well-being, and that it’s all about how they function. Although the nonprofit consulting firm is focused on building healthy, equitable communities, it was not included in the survey.
She said that it might be easier to feel that connection when you are in person, but positive interactions with others and inclusion are crucial.
It is essential to build trust between people. Wilkerson stated that trust is important.
According to the survey, people who perceive others as mean or untrustworthy felt more lonely than those who feel they can trust or are kind.
It also revealed a clear correlation between wealth and feelings of support: People who feel they are “living comfortably” felt more supported than those who feel they are struggling to make ends meet.
A shared experience, but one individual
In all seven countries, the most common daily connection for people was with their family and friends.
Although neighbors were a common interaction for many people, more than one-fifth of Americans said that they don’t interact with their neighbors. People from school or work were more likely to have a daily connection. People from the US were more likely to report that they have interacted with strangers and people with similar interests than people from other countries.
Davoodi stated that the formula for loneliness and connections is different for people who have different experiences. “The profile for someone who feels socially supported is slightly different from one place to the next.”
People may be more comfortable introducing themselves to strangers in the US because they are a larger country with a mobile culture. Marisa Franco, a psychologist, and professor has written a book on friendship based on her research.
She said, “You need to be open to different people because you are not guaranteed to have them all in your life.”
The “face of loneliness”, however, doesn’t always look the same. It is something that many people experience.
Franco stated that social connection is “like a muscle we have to flex” – it will take practice and time to figure out the best ways to do this after a pandemic.
Friberg attributes much of the library’s success to its active efforts to create a safe, inclusive environment. For next month’s book club meeting there will be options for virtual and in-person attendance.
They will tackle the subject of loneliness head-on. The new book by US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Muthy, “Together”: “Together: The Healing Power of Connection In a Sometimes Lonely World” is available.
A book can often allow people to connect and express themselves in ways they wouldn’t dare to when they are around others. Friberg stated that it gives people a safe place to talk to strangers or to make connections with people they have become friends with.
“This topic has been on many people’s minds since the pandemic, and even before that – but it’s more in-focus, I think, as all of us struggle to figure out what’s important and how to live our lives.”