How to Counter Loneliness: A Seattle Retiree's Advice

March 26, 2024 at 7:01 p.m.

I read an article about aging and loneliness in Business Insider, of all places. The article, by Ayelet Sheffey, boldly recounts a Seattle retiree's path to achieving happiness and countering loneliness... "It can work at any age and doesn't cost a penny."

Seattle retiree, 75-year-old Joe Lamy, offers his advice on combatting loneliness. "When it comes to happiness," said Joe, "it's not about money -- it's about relationships."

The article starts out with Joe at a Seattle Walgreens. While he waited in line, Joe watched the pharmacist prepare pill containers. Then, when he got to the counter and observed the pharmacist toss a stapled bag with the pill bottle in it eight feet into a box, Joe commented, "Good shot." The pharmacist replied, "Practice."

Joe said that this simple interaction shifted the course of his day. "It made me happy."

These types of "low stakes" relationships can help people feel more connected, even though you are interacting with people you may not know very well, or even at all except for the fleeting moment of your interaction. The article cites a John Hopkins study that found these low-stakes, brief interactions can help foster a sense of belonging.

There is increasing awareness that a sense of connectedness is all the more important as we age; loneliness can have significant impacts on health as we grow older. The author writes, "Over time, loneliness can damage a person's sleep schedule, immune system, heart health, and memory..."

A University of Michigan "National Poll on Healthy Aging" found that one in three older adults reported feeling isolated. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has studied the loneliness crisis: "...our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and soietal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight -- one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives."

Back to Joe Lamy: After Joe retired, he found that he had fewer social interactions. The article reports that about a year ago he started a group at the West Seattle Senior Center where seniors can gather together simply to talk. "We have little moments that are actually more important in our joy than making 20 bucks," said Joe. "Not that money's not important. It just doesn't fill you up."

Joe feels fulfilled through his volunteer work at the senior center facilitating the meetings. While the meetings may start with a discussion topic, they often evolve into a free-flowing conversation. "When we had our first meeting, I asked them, 'How many of you have people you can talk to?' And only half the people raised their hand," said Joe. " just broke my heart."

Joe feels the meetings offer so much value to others that he now recruits facilitators to hold groups nationwide through AARP.

"It comes down to simple empathy and realizing that people really do need it," concluded Joe in the article. "And when you reach out and take the initiative to help someone who is in need, it sort of opened them up to begin to trust. It's a lifesaver."

Share this story!