Professor Theo van Tilburg conducts research into loneliness at VU University Amsterdam. According to van Tilburg, loneliness is the feeling that you are not satisfied with your social relationships. You cannot be satisfied with the quantity of the relationships: the number of friends. You can also be dissatisfied with the quality of relationships: missing the essential contact or depth.
Van Tilburg highlights the importance of distinguishing between people who are occasionally lonely and people who are continuously lonely. Van Tilburg explains that from time to time feeling lonely is part of life and that there is no harm in that. Only when it becomes a chronic feeling, an accumulation of negativity, it becomes a problem. Loneliness then affects the quality of life.
Urbanization as a cause
A distinction can therefore be made between long-term or short-term loneliness. In addition, there is also a difference in being alone and loneliness. Michael Harris, in his book Solitude, writes that being alone is very valuable. Being alone gives time for reflection. It can lead to the most beautiful discoveries about yourself and new insights. Harris explains that being alone can turn into loneliness through urbanization and technological developments, among other things. So maybe it is no coincidence that Tilburg is researching loneliness in the largest city in the Netherlands?
Research by the GGD (Municipal health service) shows that 300,000 inhabitants of Amsterdam feel lonely (48%). 80,000 of them feel extremely lonely (13%). In 2016, therefore, a motion was passed to set up a program against loneliness in Amsterdam. The municipality allocates 1 million euros per year to identify loneliness, recognize it and break the taboo. Loneliness is recognized here as a complex subject, where a one-size-fits-all approach is not possible. The Amsterdam Network Loneliness therefore runs 39 different projects with its shareholders to tackle loneliness.
Young and old
One of the shareholders in this network is "Voor Elkaar in Zuid" (for each other in South). They aim to bring local residents together in Amsterdam South to promote mutual help and social contacts. Think of chores in the house or garden, shopping for someone together or for someone, guidance to the doctor, learning a language, drinking a cup of coffee at home or practicing a common hobby.
I have been living in Amsterdam South since January 2019 and I therefore received a flyer from "Voor Elkaar in Zuid". A nice initiative in my opinion and without thinking about it I saw myself in this concept on the side of the volunteers, the ones who help the lonely. Only later in the week - after a moment of solitude and reflection - did I realize how easily I had assigned myself this role of volunteer. That I was in my head with an image of the classic model of the lonely older person. While I know this is an incorrect picture. I suddenly realized that (23 years) I hardly know anyone in Amsterdam South and my 80-year-old neighbor two doors away has a huge social network in our neighborhood.
I do not mean to say that elderly people with loneliness do not exist. I want to show how important it is to discuss it. My fallacy made me realize that loneliness can look different to everyone and it can be very invisible. I think there's a taboo on admitting you're lonely. It's easier assign yourself as volunteer than as lonely one. Research has shown that helping other people helps against loneliness and that everyone feels lonely sometimes. So if you feel lonely it can help to register as a volunteer. It could even be two birds with one stone: you feel less lonely, by helping someone feel less lonely.
If you want to register as a volunteer now, but do not live in Amsterdam South, you can check out NLvoorelkaar.nl. Here you can offer help or search in your area.