You’ll notice it when you’re sitting on the subway or waiting in line for a crowded event: Almost everyone around you is bent over his or her smartphone.
But although people are constantly “connected” through cell phones and social media, loneliness is more of an issue than ever.
One in five people in the U.S. suffers from loneliness, according to researchers, and that loneliness can translate into actual, physical health concerns. Neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo writes that acute loneliness can increase your mortality rate by a percentage even greater than that of obesity. In light of this research, a new star-studded campaign wants to fight back against the feelings of isolation that permeate so many people’s everyday lives.
“Saying hello and smiling is so easy to do,” Gayle King, editor at large for O, The Oprah Magazine, told Business Insider. “But it can send such a meaningful message.”
O Magazine, along with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Skype, is using that ethos to encourage people to say hello to someone whom they wouldn’t normally say hello to.
That includes starting a conversation in the laundry room, saying good morning in the elevator, acknowledging the person who washes the windows every morning at your favourite coffee shop, or getting in touch with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
King says that a significant part of the campaign’s goal is to get people to talk openly about loneliness, which has long been something of a taboo topic.
“More people would rather say they’re depressed than say they’re lonely,” she says. “There’s this connotation that being lonely means you’re some sort of loser.”
But there’s no real formula for loneliness: Successful, attractive, people with a wide group of friends can get lonely in the same way as anyone else. King said the response and the calibre of stories shared through the campaign’s hashtag #justsayhello and over Skype has already been overwhelming.
“I seek out people who are focusing on their smartphones. Most of the time after I’ve said hello, they don’t realise they have been spoken to,” wrote participant Rita Vesper, “Or if I’m waiting at a traffic light, they will say, ‘Oh, did you mean me? Hi.’ A little eye contact, a little smile, a little victory for humanity.”
King and the rest of the Just Say Hello team want people to increase their face-to-face interaction and ultimately bright their own lives, as well as the lives of those around them.
“We’re hoping that it will be the start of something,” she says.
Here’s one particularly poignant story of the power of hello that a participant shared over Skype:
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