Its been an interesting journey on birthday celebrations for me personally. Going back to my childhood and I have some fond memories of birthday celebrations organized by my mother in whatever place we happened to be. No small feat given the transient nature of many of our homes. Thinking back I am not sure what my mother did to fill the room but I bet it was not simple or easy. And this was before cell phones, text messaging and all the other media we have the helped connect us. We did have a POTS (plain old Telephone Systems) with a “land-line” but looking people up was not easy and if you did not call at the right time there was no system to store a message for later replay – no ansaphones or voicemail in those days.
But my parents were troopers and I especially remember my mother making cakes for my birthday in whatever theme a toddlers mind had recently focused on. One year it was a train – she got really creative with circular cake pans and icing – thanks mum!
Those happy days were quickly replaced with one of fear linked to celebration of birthdays as I tried to navigate the harsh world of boarding school where birthdays were “celebrated” by being woken up early, dragged out of bed into a carefully pulled bath of cold water “A cold bath” as it was not surprisingly known. “If you were lucky” (in case you miss the reference – here’s the iconic sketch from Monty Python – “The 4 Yorkshiremen”:
This was capped with a “bog-wash” (aka swirly in the US). So not revealing your real birthday became a special skill that would be the envy of many middle-aged individuals who still view their age as defining the individual.
This shaped much of my behavior around birthday’s although others in my family have been keen to celebrate – me not so much.
A Connected World – or Is It?
Fast forward to the new age of connected people and each year has seen a steady increase of birthday wishes which are gratefully received on multiple channels. Driven in part by the number of people in my network I receive salutations on LinkedIn and Facebook – driven in part by technology that uses the birthday entry in my profile to notify and remind people of the event.
But despite all of these connection and tools, we seem to be in a place more lonely than ever – this was clear based on the high response on my post on LinkedIn that linked to an original article on NPR: Americans Are A Lonely Lot, And Young People Bear The Heaviest Burden, which presented the results of a nationwide survey by Cigna with >50% of people reporting feeling lonely some of the time
Loneliness isn’t just a fleeting feeling, leaving us sad for a few hours to a few days. Research in recent years suggests that for many people, loneliness is more like a chronic ache, affecting their daily lives and sense of well-being.
And it has a huge impact on our health not just in the obvious link to suicide (if you feel suicidal – please call someone now and if you have no one know there is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7/365 staffed by compassionate caring people who are ready willing and able to listen and help.
But we see links of loneliness to other clinical conditions with a higher risk of coronary heart disease and stroke and impacting our genes and our immune systems
“We have robust evidence that it increases risk for premature mortality”
Incremental Steps to Beating Loneliness
So my suggestions to those of you kind enough to take the time on my birthday to wish me a Happy Birthday would be to take that moment and thought and apply it to one of your friends, not as lucky as me and in the words of the show
Who Wants to be a Millionaire from ABC and use the lifeline to
Phone a Friend
Reach out, with this one small change and have an impact on someone’s life today
You can also follow me here on medium, on twitter, or on facebook or Sign up to receive my posts each week
Latest posts by Dr Nick (see all)