Why We Feel Lonely and Unfulfilled – How to Fix That

July 30, 2011 / Psychology / 7 Comments

If you’ve got time to spare, you should absolutely watch this video by Simon Sinek. It’ll make you feel good. I highly, highly recommend it!

But for those of you who don’t have the time, Sinek shares two main ideas:

  1. Progress, be it organizational or societal, can only be made if there’s trust. And trust can only be built by people who share similar values and beliefs.
  2. Only the spirit of generosity can lead to fulfillment.

While he doesn’t explicitly talk about loneliness and unfulfillment, both ideas are good explanations for why we tend to feel that way.

On Loneliness, Authenticity and Trust

We feel lonely because it’s often a challenge to find people who ‘click’ or share the same values as us. Part of the reason it’s so difficult is because people often do not say or do what they truly believe in. We have a tendency to self-censor or to “spin” our ideas in an effort to be more well-liked or, at least, not ostracized.

So, the key to alleviating this loneliness is authenticity. Say and do what you believe so that you will attract people who share similar beliefs. A community of people with shared beliefs and values, and trusts each other is a powerful entity. Think Apple. Think women in the 1900s. Think gay rights activists in New York.

At a more personal level, I’m definitely guilty of censorship — especially on my blog, which is probably why I don’t write as much anymore. I’m at a point in my life, where I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and reading about life, work, and humanity. I mean, it’s really a minute-by-minute preoccupation. At any moment, I’m observing people around me, analyzing why they do certain things or behave a certain way. Then I’m assessing what’s my best possible response; how can I change to become more effective. But I don’t share most of these thoughts for fear I’d bore you, lose all my subscribers and that you’d think I’m some sort of Machiavellian manipulator-in-training suffering from serious OCD.

I need to be more authentic and stop being so concerned about being well-read or well-liked. By being more authentic, I could perhaps find more people who are as passionate about individual, organizational and societal development as I am. While I don’t have a political or entrepreneurial agenda, having a network of people who share the same passions will enrich their lives and mine as well. It would also give concrete purpose and direction to my blog.

On Fulfillment, Generosity…

Sinek points out that fulfillment can only be felt when you reach out to someone in the spirit of generosity. This means helping someone without expecting something in return. When you give money to a homeless guy or help out a classmate or colleague, you just feel warm and fuzzy inside. That feeling is fulfillment. It’s something wealth and shiny, new objects can’t give you — only generosity.

…and the Contagiousness of Emotions and Empowerment

Well, that’s all he says about fulfillment but I’ve got something else to add on. Let me tell you a story.

Singapore is a country plagued by the lack of generosity and the prevalence of selfishness. And it’s a contagious disease. Every day, I leave the house feeling like I want to do something good for someone. Then I step into the subway, and see inconsiderate bastards blocking the train entrance. In an instant, all that generosity vanishes. I’m suddenly gripped with disappointment and anger. Instead of being nice to someone, I shove my way through the inconsiderate bastards, shouting the most insincere, spiteful “Excuse me!” anyone’s ever heard. It’s really a terrible thing to do. (I try hard not to do that anymore.)

So the other day, I tried something new. Instead of letting other people affect my mood, I decided to set the mood for them. I was fortunate to have a seat on a crowded train that afternoon. And an elderly lady carrying lots of bags walked into the train. She wasn’t standing anywhere close to my seat, but I chose to give it up anyway. I called out to her and gave her my seat. Since I was pretty loud, many of the other passengers turned and looked at us.

When we arrived at the interchange, something magical happened. More than three people in my carriage stood up and gave their seats to people they normally wouldn’t give up for — slightly pregnant women, fathers carrying children, people with heavy bags. (In Singapore, unless you look like you’re about to give birth any second now or celebrate your 100th birthday, chances are people will not give up their seats for you.) This sudden generosity was truly a rare, amazing sight.

So while the lack of generosity is contagious, generosity itself is contagious as well. Instead of becoming affected by other people’s negative emotions and energies, share yours when you’re in good, generous mood. And it’s not just fulfillment you will get. It’s also empowerment. The power to influence your community, your country, your world — one train carriage at a time.