Suffering with others is different
During World War 2 in England the government made up projections and predictions about the mass hysteria and psychosis that the blitz would bring.
It was assumed that law and order would break down and that the general population's fragile minds would not be able to handle the horrors of war.
Thousands of people were crammed into bomb shelters and tube stations and hell rained from above.
Military personnel would often find casualties that were beyond help, pump them full of morphine and then leave them to die while they try to find people they might actually be able to help.
It was an environment in which it would be easy to forgive someone who struggled to cope with the horrors they witnessed each and every day.
However, psychiatric hospitals around the country saw admissions go down during the blitz and there weren't many reported cases of mental break downs in the shelters.
All across Europe it has also been documented that suicide rates go down during war time.
The same thing happened in Belfast during the sectarian violence of the late 60s and early 70s.
So what is going on here?
One hypothesis is that these violent, dangerous and tragic situations bring people together. That people can unite behind a common goal and experience a level of closeness and bonding with other humans that simply doesn't exist unless struggling against some common source of suffering...
(Most of the above information comes the book Tribe by Sebastian Junker and is absolutely worth your time)
What does it all mean?
I think a lot about suffering (a pastime I wouldn't recommend).
After the blitz in England some people actually looked back fondly on those days, despite the death, destruction and tragedy.
The war time struggle brought people together, closer than they had ever been before. Post war they drifted apart and that closeness was lost.
It seems as if it is easier for a human to be happy when suffering with others than it is to be happy when 'succeeding’ alone.
It has already been well established that isolation is deadly to humans. Mortality from all causes increases with loneliness (source).
Without some sort of social contact and real human connection our minds begin to struggle.
This is most clearly evidenced by prisoners who have spent extensive periods of time in isolation cells. A treatment that is as barbaric as it is ineffective (in terms of rehabilitation).
Furthermore, I can't help but feel like virtual social contact doesn't count. That there is a hollowness to online groups.
I don’t think this idea is talked about as much as it should be.
The fact that spending time on relationships and community brings more health and happiness than material gain.
As a society it feels like we are moving in the opposite direction.
Hollow relationships with hundreds of virtual 'friends'.
More value placed on the material and superficial.
But I don't think that's all it is.
It's easier to be alone these days. We spend a significant portion of our money on technology that allows us to vanquish boredom.
The more we hang out on the internet the less we feel the need to actually engage with society. Boredom is alleviated but our mental health goes to shit.
Who needs to go out a meet people when you can browse Reddit and binge on Netflix for 12 hours?
Even contributing to the virtual world seems dangerous as it is all too easy to tie your worth to strangers reactions to your work.
This is something I think about a lot because it is something I struggle with.
I tend to isolate myself and relish the thought of being alone. However, I always feel worse when I've spent the day alone.
I even avoid social situations while telling myself 'you know you'll feel better if you go out an be with people'.
The time alone is sometimes spent productively, but more often than not most of that time is spent watching crap on Youtube or scrolling through endless content.
I think I also focus a lot of things like diet, exercise and meditation because I know I am missing that vital social pillar. I'm overcompensating.
It feels like I am sitting on a four legged stool that is missing a leg.
Sure I can put all my weight into the other three legs and I well be able to keep it upright, but it's still off balance and just sitting on it comes with extra stress.
I hate the term 'social life' because that concept that almost become synonymous with partying, clubs, drinking etc... (at least in Ireland).
Our social lives should be about connecting deeply with others and fostering a community around us.
That's what the science is suggesting we need.
And that for me is a lot harder than maintaining the other three legs of the stool, because it involves other people and I lose absolute control.