• Nobody ever noticed how much effort he put in.Nobody cares what you do.So Michael explained to the tax office bosses that a lack of control and a lack of balance between efforts and rewards were causing such severe depression that it was leading their staff to suicide.Today, nobody seriously disputes the core of the evidence he has uncovered, although we rarely talk about it.He has become one of the leading public health scientists in the world.Yet we are still, it occurred to me, making the mistake those doctors made back then.Back in Philly, I started to tell Joe about the Whitehall studies and the other scientific evidence I had learned about.I love to fish, he told me.My goal is to fish all fifty states before I die.It pays a lot less than he earns now, but he would love it.He would look forward to work every day.He thought out loud about what that would be like.Why don’t you leave?And he looked hopeful.And then he looked afraid.Later in our conversation, I came back to it.You could do it tomorrow, I said.What’s stopping you? There’s a part of all of us, he says, that thinks if I keep buying more stuff, and I get the Mercedes, and I buy the house with the four garages, people on the outside [will] think I’m doing good, and then I can will myself into being happy. He wanted to go.Yet he was being blocked by something neither he nor I fully understood.Ever since then, I’ve been trying to understand why Joe probably won’t go.Something keeps many of us trapped in those situations that’s more than just needing to pay the bills.I was going to investigate it soon.Go to Florida! The moment I said it, I felt foolish.He didn’t look back.Disconnection from Other PeopleWhen I was a child, something unexpected happened to my parents.Then, when I was a baby, they moved to a place called Edgware.If you fall asleep on a train and find yourself there, you’ll see lots of houses, some fast food joints, a park, and lots of decent, likable, alienated people hurrying through them.When my parents moved in, they tried befriending people in the neighborhood, in just the way they would have in the places they were from.It was as natural an instinct to them as breathing.But when they tried to do this, they were perplexed.In Edgware, people weren’t hostile.We knew our neighbors to smile at.Life was meant to happen, my parents learned slowly, inside your house.Where is everyone? she asked me once when I was quite small, looking down our empty street, baffled.Loneliness hangs over our culture today like a thick smog.They didn’t look at what was happening in your life, and ask whether that might be causing any of the changes in the brain they were discovering.It was as if they thought your brain is an island, cut off from the rest of the world and never interacting with it.What would happen if, instead of studying the brain as if it were an isolated island, we did it differently?What if we tried to study it as if it were an island that is connected by a hundred bridges to the outside world, where things are being carried on and off all the time as you receive signals from the world?When he raised these questions, his mentors were puzzled.You know, they told him, even if it were relevant, [the factors outside the [brain]](https://buddybio.com/read-blog/7154) are not fundamental to changes like depression or anxiety.Nobody will understand any of this for one hundred years or more, they said.So we’re not going to focus on it.John never forgot these questions.He puzzled over them for years, until one day, in the 1990s, he finally thought of a way he might begin to study them in more detail.Does that experience, he asked himself, change your brain?Does it change your body?He began with the simplest study he could think of.John and his colleagues gathered one hundred strangers at the University of Chicago, where he was now based, to take part in a straightforward experiment that nobody had ever tried before.You had to wear a cardiovascular monitor to measure your heart rate, and you were given a little beeper and some tubes.First, you had to note how lonely or connected you felt.Second, you had to record your heart rate from the monitor.On the second day of the experiment you went through the same process, except this time, when you heard the beeper, you’d spit into a tube, seal it, and keep it to hand in to the lab.But when you’re stressed, your heartbeat goes up, and your saliva becomes flooded with a hormone called cortisol.When John and his colleagues added up the data,1 they were startled.Becoming acutely lonely, the experiment found,2 was as stressful as experiencing a physical attack.It’s worth repeating.Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger.John started to dig, to see if any other scientists had studied the effects of loneliness.A professor named Sheldon Cohen,3 he learned, had carried out a study in which he took a bunch of people and recorded how many friends and healthy social connections each of them had.It turned out that they were three times more likely to catch the cold than people who had lots of close connections to other people.Another scientist, Lisa Berkman,4 had followed both isolated and highly connected people over nine years, to see whether one group was more likely to die than the other.She discovered that isolated people were two to three times more likely to die during that period.Loneliness itself, John was slowly discovering as he pieced together the evidence, seemed to be deadly.So John now knew that loneliness has striking physical effects.But could it, he wanted to investigate next, also be driving the apparent epidemic of depression and anxiety?At first, this seemed like it would be a tough question to investigate.Then you can match up the answers.If you do that, you always find that lonely people are much more likely to be depressed or anxious.

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