What Is The Opposite Of Loneliness?
By Danni Peck
Updated December 12, 2018
Reviewer Laura Angers
In 2012, Yale senior Marina Keegan wrote a thought-provoking essay for her school newspaper in which she reflected on the "Opposite of Loneliness." Here are some of her words.
"We don't have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life…It's not quite loving, and it's not quite a community; it's this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid, and you stay at the table. When it's four a.m., and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can't remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt."
Her goals for a life that was the "opposite of lonely" were all the more poignant given the fact that Marina died in a car crash just a few days after her college graduation. Despite her death (or maybe partially because of it), her message resonated. Her articulate description of what it feels like to not be lonely gave voice to all our own deepest wishes for belonging.
After all, if we could express what we wish for more than anything else, it would be the opposite of lonely. No matter our age, we want that feeling of an abundance of people who are in this together. We yearn for it, crave it. And when we do experience that empty, disconnected emotion we term "loneliness," it brings us deep despair.
And yet, for something that we want so badly, we find it difficult to put into words. It's almost as if this elusive state escapes our words as easily as it escapes our way of life.
As with any goal, the opposite of loneliness is easier to achieve if you know exactly what you're striving for. But the reality is that loneliness can mean different things to different people…, and so it's opposite also affects individuals in diverse ways, making it an even more challenging concept to define.
Let's sort through some possible antonyms of loneliness to see which ones resonate the most.
What Does It Mean To Be Lonely?
Let's begin with a basic understanding of the various meanings of the word "lonely."
According to Merriam Webster, there are several definitions of the word. They are:
- being without company
- cut off from others, solitary
- not frequented by human beings, desolate
- sad from being alone
- producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation
Based on this definition, we can come up with five possible antonyms:
Let's discuss each of these concepts regarding how they might function as a loneliness antonym, and thus as a goal that reflects our deepest wishes.
The word "companionship" can be used in a variety of ways.
In one sense, it simply means the state of being accompanied, of having a companion.
It also refers to the feeling of fellowship and camaraderie that you might experience when you have the company of another person or a group of people.
In that sense, this word seems to directly embrace the emotions that Marina Keegan was describing in her essay, the feelings you have when the check is paid, and no one leaves the table.
This may be the closest that we get to a direct antonym of loneliness. However, it raises an important question.
Is it possible to feel lonely even when you are in the company of others?
Can you feel lonely even while surrounded by a group of friends?
A 2007 study found that loneliness was directly related not to the number of social contacts you have, but to their quality.
So, as you have probably experienced, you can very easily feel lonely when accompanied by a group of friends, or even your spouse or family.
This can happen if you are not investing enough quality time in your relationships. Perhaps you have a large friend group, but your interactions with these friends are mostly superficial. Maybe you spend a lot of time interacting with people on social media, but you're missing that deeper connection. Maybe you need to take some time out to enjoy a family vacation or just a quiet dinner alone with your spouse to reconnect with those closest to you.
And that brings us to our next possible loneliness opposite…
At the most basic level, the word "connectedness" simply means to be united or joined together.
But this word also has significant emotional connotations.
When we feel securely attached and emotionally in touch with another person, we say that we are "connected."
In fact, we can even feel connected to strangers, if they smile at us, greet us, or acknowledge us in some way.
Conversely, the experience of disconnectedness brings us emotions of emptiness and despair, akin to true loneliness.
If we are in a group situation, the experience of being "disconnected" can be so profound as to make us feel as if we don't exist. Our personalities, emotions, wishes, and fears…in short, everything that makes us who we are…seem to be disregarded by those around us.
If we feel disconnected in our relationships, then our basic need to be acknowledged and cared about is not being met.
If you are in this situation, don't hesitate to reach out to one the trained counselors at BetterHelp to guide you to reconnecting with your loved ones and overcoming these feelings.
But the direct opposite of "connectedness" is not "loneliness," but rather "disconnectedness." This reflects the fact that connections are not about individuals and their emotions, but about relationships and group dynamics.
It is possible, however, to feel lonely as an individual, and not about other people. So while the word "connectedness" functions well as a loneliness antonym, it falls short in some ways.
The simplest way to think about loneliness is the state of being alone.
In its purest form, the word "lonely" can describe places just as well as it can describe emotions.
The loneliest places could be an empty street at night time, an abandoned house in the woods, or a vast stretch of bare desert.
These places are lonely not only because they are devoid of people, but because of the feelings of loneliness that they evoke within us.
For that reason, a place that is inhabited by a bustling throng of people could be considered as the opposite of lonely. A busy town square on market day, a house full of family for a holiday celebration, or a beautiful park full of joggers and happy children might be some well-inhabited places that evoke the "opposite of loneliness" for us.
The problem is that the true emotion of loneliness also encompasses sadness. And as we know all too well, you can feel sad as easily in a busy town square as you can on an empty city street. So this antonym also falls a bit short.
Is loneliness just another word for sadness then? If so, let's explore the next potential opponent.
While "happiness" is the direct opposite of "sadness," this word does have merit as an "opposite of loneliness."
After all, loneliness is a melancholy emotion, and usually exclusive of happiness.
In fact, most definitions of loneliness characterize that emotion as "sadness due to being alone." So fundamentally, loneliness is nothing more than sadness, brought about by a specific cause.
However, there is a problem with this antonym as well, as you can probably already tell; namely, that sadness and happiness are both too general. Sadness can be brought about by many other causes besides loneliness. There are many occasions on which you might feel unhappy, but are not lonely. For example, you may feel deeply connected to an important cause, yet you are exhausted and emotionally burned out. Or you may be spending all your time with a beloved family member who is suffering a chronic illness. In these cases, you are experiencing "the opposite of loneliness," yet the chances are that you're not feeling very happy.
Another definition of loneliness describes it as a trait rather than an emotion.
In other words, a person, place or thing might be considered "lonely" if their influence causes other people to feel emotions associated with loneliness.
If we consider "loneliness" as a character trait, then a person who embodied the "opposite of loneliness" would be sociable, affable, friendly. The kind of person who makes you feel at ease when you converse with him or her.
But once again, this definition breaks down, because it remains on the surface. True loneliness, as well as its opposite, is much deeper than our social interactions. In fact, the friendliest, most congenial people can often be the loneliest, too.
Although we haven't made much headway in coming up with one word that entirely sums up "the opposite of loneliness," some options can get you thinking about what loneliness is for you, and what you can do to nail down its opposite in your own life.
The answer may be developing a better quality of your existing friendships and relationships. It may be developing traits of sociability and friendliness. It may simply be going where other like-minded people are.
Whatever the "opposite of loneliness" is for you, it's well worth the time to define and work on attaining it. Because, as Marina said, "that's what I want in life."
And the truth is…that's what we all want.