• Joe Lamy, 75, says loneliness among older people is far too prevalent.
  • He started a free group at his local senior center, where residents can gather and simply talk.
  • When it comes to happiness, Lamy said, it's not about money — it's about relationships.

Joe Lamy, 75, recently went to the Walgreens pharmacy in Seattle where he watched the pharmacist sift pills into various containers as he waited patiently in line.

When his turn finally came to approach the counter, the pharmacist placed a pill bottle into a bag, stapled it, and tossed it into a box about eight feet away.

"Good shot," Lamy said to the pharamist.

"Practice," she replied, and each of them carried on with their day.

While the interaction might have been insignificant to the pharmacist, it carried meaning for Lamy and shifted the course of his day.

"I didn't have to say anything, but I did," Lamy told Business Insider. "And it made me happy. She and I had this little moment, this tiny little moment."

These tiny moments signify the importance of what a Johns Hopkins 2015 research paper coined as "weak ties," which the New York Times previously described as "low-stakes relationships" that help people feel more connected to others that they might not know very well. A 2014 psychology study found that weak ties help make people happier and spark an increased sense of belonging.

As a retiree living on Social Security and some financial help from his family, Lamy said he's grown to value the small interactions he has with people — especially given the loneliness epidemic that's hitting some seniors especially hard. According to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, a January 2023 survey of 2,563 adults aged 50 to 80 found that one in three adults reported feeling isolated, and 37% of them reported feeling a lack of companionship in the past year.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy also addressed the loneliness crisis over the past and laid out a framework to help address it, saying in a previous statement that "our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health."

"Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives," he said.

The rise of loneliness among older adults prompted Lamy to take a second look at what he prioritizes in life — and he found that money and wealth are low on the list, while social interactions are up top. About a year ago, he started a group at a senior center in Seattle where residents can simply gather together in a room and talk for a couple of hours.

It's changed his outlook on life, and he's much happier for it.

"We have little moments that are actually more important in our joy than making 20 bucks," Lamy said. "Not that money's not important. It just doesn't fill you up."

'It's a lifesaver'

Lamy said he never made much money throughout his life. Before becoming an English teacher — the job he had up until his retirement in 2021 — he installed insulation in the homes of low-income and older people.

He found that upon retirement, a lot of his daily social interactions dwindled.

"The big thing that happens when you get older is your friends leave, your spouse dies, or your neighbors that you trusted move away," Lamy said. "And then you don't have your job anymore, and to me, that cuts off a huge flow of people."

He no longer has that issue. As a facilitator of the biweekly meetings at the senior center, Lamy said he usually begins each session with a discussion topic — but it often evolves into a flowing conversation that can last hours beyond the one-hour allotted time for the meeting.

"When we had our first meeting, I asked them, 'How many of you have people you can talk to?' And only half the people raised their hand," Lamy said. "And I said, 'Do you mean to tell me that four of you don't have any person you can talk to in your life about anything?' And they said, 'Yes, that's why we're here.' And it just broke my heart."

Now, Lamy is working with AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, to recruit facilitators to hold groups nationwide and give older people a free option to combat loneliness.

As Business Insider previously reported, loneliness can have significant impacts on people's mental and physical well-being. Over time, loneliness can damage a person's sleep schedule, immune system, heart health, and memory if the issue isn't reversed.

When the implications become that dire, Lamy said, the typical American Dream concerns, like being successful and accumulating wealth, are not important. Relationships are.

"It comes down to simple empathy and realizing that people really do need it," Lamy said. "And when you reach out and take the initiative to help someone who is in need, it sort of opened them up to begin to trust. It's a lifesaver."

2024-01-28T10:31:00Z dg43tfdfdgfd