Team CoLearning CoPassion, a semifinalist in the Helsinki Challenge science competition, fights the vicious circle of loneliness with a circle of compassion.

Team co-leader, university lecturer in urban theology Henrietta Grönlund defines loneliness as a negative experience of the insufficient quantity or quality of human connections. It is a serious social problem.

Often loneliness links to other health and substance abuse problems, unemployment and credit problems, which makes it a core question for society.

“Loneliness has a negative impact on mental and physical wellbeing and health. If prolonged, it can be very damaging and have extensive impacts on a person’s ability to function,” Grönlund states.

Nobody left out

How can we alleviate the problems caused by loneliness? Should we look to loving thy neighbour, compassion or social policy?

“All of the above, please!” Grönlund replies without hesitation.

It is possible to prevent loneliness by ensuring basic social coverage and services. We must take charge when a person is experiencing problems, not push them from one office and programme to the next.

According to Grönlund, societies with less inequality and easily accessible services have less experience of loneliness. In this area, the Nordic countries stand out in a positive sense.

It is possible to prevent loneliness by ensuring basic social coverage and services. We must take charge when a person is experiencing problems, not push them from one office and programme to the next.

Unofficial support, e.g., from NGOs and parishes is also very important.

“Compassion is a central tool: how we see each other, how compassionate we act towards ourselves and others, how we include people, how we show support or share our joys and successes.”

Loneliness is a challenge for the community

The founding principle of Team CoLearning CoPassion is that when an individual is left outside, the community is always involved. This is to say that loneliness is not just a problem for the lonely person.

By generating positive experiences, we can increase the trust people feel towards others and themselves, which can result in completely new social interpretations and a more positive self-image.

“Over time, loneliness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Experiences of rejection lead to fear of rejection, which leads to negative interpretations of the behaviour of others, a negative self-image and avoidance behaviour. And that leads to others coming to the false conclusion that the lonely person wants to be alone, and so forth,” Grönlund explains.

By generating positive experiences, we can increase the trust people feel towards others and themselves, which can result in completely new social interpretations and a more positive self-image.

Compassion is about the little things

In value surveys, Finns typically express a desire to help, charity, equality and fairness. Barometer surveys often display concerns over increasing inequality and income discrepancies.

Other rising trends include spontaneous, informal community action along with caring and volunteer work, through different forms of urban activism, for example.

Warm compassionate moments with a colleague we don’t even know can promote our creativity, our commitment to our professional community, our wellbeing and even our cognitive problem-solving abilities. These are all immensely important things!

According to Grönlund, this means that people yearn for a more informal, everyday compassion, connecting with and caring about others.

The team leader, professor of church sociology Anne Birgitta Pessi, also stresses the importance of everyday compassion.

“Warm compassionate moments with a colleague we don’t even know can promote our creativity, our commitment to our professional community, our wellbeing and even our cognitive problem-solving abilities. These are all immensely important things!”

Studies indicate that even small helpful things are proven to benefit both the helper and the person receiving the help – and even other people witnessing the help.

“Compassion is a tremendous resource, and one we should actively train. This is what our team hopes to promote,” Pessi states.

Team CoLearning CoPassion is solving loneliness among young urbanites

The team is working on a model in which students teach emotional skills to their younger peers. Its central points are compassion (the ability to notice other people’s distress empathetically and react to it), co-passion (the ability to feel and share in other people’s joy and enthusiasm) and self-compassion. The group’s previous research from places of work proves that developing these skills significantly increases people’s mental, physical and social wellbeing.

Team CoLearning CoPassion – HelsinkiChallenge 2017