Buddhism A–Z
Buddhism & Loneliness

Loneliness is defined in medical literature as distress caused by being alone and by a lack of social connections in one’s life. Persistent loneliness can be as detrimental to one’s physical health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, the Surgeon General said. The U.S. Surgeon General wrote recently that at least half of American adults reported being lonely. This is a universal human experience. 

The psychological advice on addressing loneliness is mostly about how to make social connections. Buddhism, on the other hand, also focuses on the value of being at peace with yourself under all circumstances. In the Migajaalena Sutta of the Pali Canon (Samyutta Nikaya 35.63), for example, the Buddha speaks of monks who are unhappy in seclusion because they are still attached to sense pleasures, including the company of other people. But a monk who is no longer infatuated with sense pleasures is content with solitude.

A Middle Way

As a practical matter, there is nothing at all wrong with seeking a middle way to address loneliness, seeking connection with others while cultivating one’s own inner stability and contentment. Do look for ways to connect with others and form meaningful relationships. If you belong to a sangha, a community of Buddhists, that’s a start. Most advice for making friends in adulthood points to finding people who share your interests. Whether you join a social service organization or a bowling team, make it something that you genuinely enjoy and find meaningful. You may also benefit from talking to a counselor or a Buddhist teacher. 

At the same time, one of the fruits of Buddhist practice is being more at home, and at peace, with yourself. Recognize that loneliness is part of the nature of dukkha, the suffering or stress of life. Through insight into the roots of dukkha we can be liberated from it.

Connection, Compassion, and Loving-Kindness

Loneliness arises from the sense of isolation and disconnection. In particular, loneliness is related to our mistaken belief in a permanent, separate self. Buddhism teaches that by acknowledging and understanding the true nature of our existence, we realize that we are not disconnected, after all.

Buddhism emphasizes the cultivation of compassion (karuna) and loving-kindness (metta) toward oneself and others. These qualities can counteract feelings of loneliness by fostering a sense of connectedness and goodwill toward all beings. Compassion and loving-kindness pull us away from the self-centered views that make us feel more isolated from others. As we develop genuine concern for the well-being of others, our own suffering fades away.

Loneliness is a complex and personal issue, and individuals may differ on the best way to deal with it. But the practice of Buddhism definitely can help.

Related Reading

Silhouette of a woman.

Pema Chödrön’s Six Kinds of Loneliness

To be without a reference point is the ultimate loneliness. It is also called enlightenment.

All Alone or One With Everything?

Are we all alone in this world or at one with everything? Nick Walser shines a spotlight on the paradoxical nature of loneliness.

Working with Loneliness on the Contemplative Path

Rashid Hughes explores the importance of listening to loneliness and leaning into social intimacy when engaging in contemplative practice.

All the Lonely People

You may be lonely, but you’re not as alone as you think. Sometimes, says Jane McLaughlin-Dobisz, you have to put your phone down and stop to taste the cookie dough.

Man standing in front of a mountain.

Find Your Heart in Loneliness

When we are alone, says Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, we may begin a love affair with sadness.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.