I remember it being said once that Christmas is a time when the lonely are lonelier and the poor are poorer. As our society gears up to once again spend billions of dollars on presents,[i] many face dread as they relate to family members for perhaps the only time of the year.
For many, the Christmas spirit which makes this a festive time of year is a far cry from reality.
This is exacerbated by peer pressure from society and the media as advertisements give us the message that our lives are simply not complete without the next product and that present your family seemingly cannot do without. Marketers are very adept at deliberately creating a sense of emptiness in us, a sense of deficit, with the creation of an always elusive sense of happiness, keeping us in a constant state of dissatisfaction.
We are sold the message that our lives are never complete, creating a culture of constant anxiety and a general feeling of unhappiness. More than enough pressure is put on families in general to measure up to the standard that our consumer-based society puts on all of us. However, it puts even more pressure on people on low incomes, who will spend a higher proportion of their income on gifts. All of this heightens anxiety and depression, adding to the loneliness that many people feel at this time of year.
Australia has been emerging, somewhat hopefully, from the COVID-19-induced isolation of much of the last two years. As borders have opened, pictures of tearful airport reunions have spread through the media. Yet Christmas is a time when isolation is actually exacerbated.
A recent survey by the Red Cross showed that a quarter of Australians have no plans for Christmas Day this year. It also revealed that women and young people are the most affected, with 40% of women reporting feeling lonely, compared to 26% of men. On top of that, 18–29-year-olds were the loneliest, with 44% experiencing loneliness compared to 33% of all respondents. Exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19, a similar percentage said they felt even lonelier than usual heading into Christmas this year, compared to 29% last year.[ii]
These are extraordinary figures in a country that is, per capita, regularly in the top three most wealthy in the world.[iii]
The contrast between the loneliness of women compared to men is an interesting one to ponder. As Eugene Wong has pointed out, the vast majority of Christmas movies available on platforms such as Netflix have a strong romantic theme.[iv] A quick Google search reveals many lists of the most popular romantic Christmas movies for the year. They regularly feature stories of a fairytale romance in which a couple find each other and experience holiday bliss together. For people who are single, this just increases the sense of loneliness.
Add this to the stereotypical image of family bliss, with smiling faces and plenty of food and frivolity, and the reality of not having this yourself at Christmas fills many people with a sense that they are missing out. People’s sense of self-worth suffers as they feel like something is wrong with them. The resultant sense of aloneness runs very deep.
Having said all of the above, it also needs to be remembered, as Wong has suggested, that Australia is a secular nation and not everyone here celebrates Christmas.[v] This can slightly skew the statistics on people not having plans for Christmas Day. It does not however change the fact that large numbers of Australians feel a deep sense of loneliness on what is considered by many to be the most festive day of the year.
In a society such as ours, where social connections have diminished over the years, and people tend to move location more often than in the past, a sense of community has been eroded.
In the five years leading up to the 2016 Australian census, 43.4% of Australians had moved house. One in six had moved in the 12 months prior.[vi] That makes us an incredibly mobile country. The reasons for moving are varied, but the results of being dislocated can be strikingly similar, including poor mental and physical health, disconnection, and the increased vulnerability that comes from being a stranger in a new neighbourhood.[vii]
The experience of loneliness at this time of year speaks directly to what it means to flourish as a human being. CBBC’s Flourishing Framework® strongly emphasises a sense of belonging to place and people as being an antidote to loneliness.[viii]
Humans are social, relational creatures, and having a sense of belonging is central to that.
To thrive as a community at this time of year, we can look out for each other, especially the more vulnerable members of society. We can invite neighbours over, we can visit them to check on their wellbeing, offer practical help, or even send a card to let them know they are being thought of. Let’s work together to ease loneliness this Christmas and help each other flourish.
[i] https://www.finder.com.au/australias-christmas-spending-statistics, accessed on 20 December, 2021.
[ii] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-12-07/australians-feeling-more-lonely-as-christmas-on/13665728, accessed on 10 December, 2021.
[iii] https://www.credit-suisse.com/media/assets/corporate/docs/about-us/research/publications/global-wealth-report-2021-en.pdf, accessed on 10 December, 2021.
[iv] Conversation with Eugene Wong, 10 December, 2021.
[vi] Census 2016: Australians increasingly restless as half move home. (2017, October 23). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/census-2016-australians-increasingly-restless-as-half-move-home-20171023-gz60qr.html
[vii] https://www.community.how/journal/the-flourishing-framework, accessed on 10 December, 2021.
[viii] https://www.community.how/journal/loneliness, accessed on 21 December, 2021.