- Loneliness is common among older people, says Joe Lamy, 75.
- She started a free group at her local senior center where residents could meet and just talk.
- As for happiness, Lamy said it’s not about money, it’s about relationships.
Joe Lamy, 75, recently went to a Walgreens pharmacy in Seattle, where a pharmacist poured pills into different containers while he waited patiently in line.
When it was finally her turn at the counter, the pharmacist put the pill bottle in a bag, sealed it, and dropped it into a box about eight feet away.
“Good shot” Lamy said the Faramist.
“Practice,” he replied, and they each went about their day.
While the interaction was trivial to the pharmacist, it made sense to Lamy and changed the course of his day.
“I didn’t have to say anything, but I did,” Lamy told Business Insider. “And it made me happy. He and I had this little moment, this little moment.”
These small moments represent the importance of what a Johns Hopkins 2015 research paper called “weak ties” and what the New York Times previously described as “low-risk connections” that help people feel more connected to others they don’t know very well. . A 2014 psychology study found that weak ties make people happier and increase their sense of belonging.
Lamy, a retiree living on Social Security and receiving some financial help from her family, said she’s coming to appreciate the little human interaction — especially given the loneliness epidemic that hits some seniors especially hard. According to the University of Michigan’s National Survey on Healthy Aging, a January 2023 survey of 2,563 adults ages 50 to 80, one in three adults reported feeling isolated, and 37% reported a lack of companionship in the past year.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also addressed the past crisis of loneliness and created a framework to help address it, saying in an earlier statement that “our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has become an underappreciated public health crisis that harms individual and community health.”
“Our relationships are a hidden source of healing and well-being—it can help us live healthier, fuller, and more productive lives,” she said.
The rise in loneliness among older adults prompted Lamin to take a second look at what he prioritized in life — and he found that money and wealth were low on the list, while social interaction was high. About a year ago, he started a group in a large center in Seattle, where residents can simply gather in a room and talk for a few hours.
It has changed his outlook on life and he is very happy about it.
“There are little moments in our joy that are more important than winning $20,” Lamy said. “It’s not that money isn’t important. It just doesn’t fill you up.”
‘It’s a lifesaver’
Lami said that he did not earn much money during his life. Before becoming an English teacher—a job she will hold until her retirement in 2021—she installed insulation in the homes of low-income and elderly people.
After he retired, he found that many of his daily social contacts had dwindled.
“The biggest thing that happens when you get older is when your friends leave, your spouse dies, or your trusted neighbors move away,” Lamy said. “And then you don’t have a job anymore, and to me that cuts off a huge influx of people.”
He no longer has this problem. As a facilitator of the biweekly meetings at the senior center, Lamy said she usually starts each session with a topic to discuss, but it often turns into a flowing conversation that can last for hours, rather than the hour allotted for a meeting.
“When we first met, I asked them, ‘How many people do you have that you can talk to?’ And only half of the people raised their hands,” Lamy said. “And I said, ‘You’re telling me that the four of you don’t have anyone to talk to about anything in your life?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s why we’re here. And it broke my heart.'” .
Now Lamy is working with AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, to organize groups nationwide and recruit helpers to give older people free options to combat loneliness.
As Business Insider previously reported, loneliness can have a significant impact on people’s mental and physical well-being. Over time, loneliness can harm a person’s sleep patterns, immune system, heart health, and memory.
When the consequences are so dire, Lamy said, the typical American Dream of being successful and accumulating wealth doesn’t matter. It’s relationships.
“It comes from simple empathy and understanding that people really need it,” Lamy said. “And when you take the initiative to reach out and help someone in need, it kind of opens them up for them to start trusting. It’s a lifesaver.”