Start this conversation by asking students to recall a time when they have felt lonely. Ask them to think about where they were, what they were doing, the physical sensations they were experiencing, as well as the feelings and thoughts they were having. Give them a minute or two to sit with this experience and check-in with students to confirm that they were able to bring something to mind.
After students have shared, reiterate that, although it’s possible to be alone and feel lonely, these are two distinct concepts. If students are struggling to recognize that feeling lonely is different from being alone, guide them towards the correct answer by asking if anyone has ever felt lonely in a crowded room.
A couple of students will likely have experienced this before and, if they are comfortable, invite them to talk about their experience. Ask them to explain why they felt lonely even though they were surrounded by people? The most common answer to this question is a lack of connection. People generally feel lonely in the presence of others when they feel unseen, unheard, and disconnected.
You can also ask students to think about a time when they were alone but did not feel lonely. For many introverts, being alone is an energizing experience that fosters their sense of connection to themselves, to others, and to the world at large.
Hopefully, these examples help students understand the distinction between feeling lonely and being alone. Explain that loneliness can be thought of as a gap between how much connection students want and how much connection they have. Because everyone wants and needs a different amount of connection, loneliness will look and feel different for everyone.
Mention that loneliness is sometimes described as a feeling of “emptiness” or “lostness”. Then, ask students to expand this description of loneliness by challenging them to articulate what loneliness feels like. To spark students' imagination and engagement, ask students how they would describe the experience of loneliness to a Martian from Mars.
Next, explain that the feeling of loneliness can be affected by students’ mood, physical health, and self-perception. For example, when they are in a negative mood, they tend to be a lot more critical about themselves and hold a more pessimistic explanatory style.
If students didn’t have any plans for the weekend, then they might feel lonely if they’re in a negative mindset. However, if students are feeling lively, upbeat, and positive, then they might embrace a quiet weekend as an opportunity to get caught up on sleep, read a good book, and do the things they love. Despite being alone, students might not feel lonely when they’re in a positive mindset.
To summarize these examples, tell students that loneliness is a subjective state, which means that it is based on or influenced by thoughts, feelings and external events. As a comparison, being alone (a.k.a. social isolation) is an objective state, which means that it is a statement of fact.
Finally, ask students to identify what the opposite of loneliness is. To spark discussion, challenge students to share their opinion about whether the opposite of loneliness is being “not lonely” or if there is more to it than that. After several responses, reveal that the opposite of loneliness is belonging and let students know that they will be diving into the concept of belonging in the upcoming lesson.