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A stranger here myself: Plugged-in lives jeopardize U.S. happiness

It might be gone, but there’s still a chance of pulling it back before it’s long gone. It was with us long ago out of necessity. Some say it’s still around, but odds are that it’s just superficial at present.

“Togetherness” is slipping through our fingers daily. We’re experiencing it in an age plagued with devices supposedly meant to keep communities connected and engaged. Hear that little voice in the background? That’s irony chuckling.

There are individuals out there who understand the importance of community solidarity, though.

Writer and social-change activist Robert Alan explains: “In our hectic, fast-paced, consumer-driven society, it’s common to feel overwhelmed, isolated and alone. Many are re-discovering the healing and empowering role that community can bring to our lives. The sense of belonging we feel when we make the time to take an active role in our communities can give us a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.”

I’d guess we’d be hard-pressed to find a worthy argument in opposition to building stronger, closer relationships with those around us. It’s the foundation upon which society rests. It’s possibly the biggest leap society can take toward bettering this fragmented, frustrated world.

Yes, we’re frustrated. We’re pretty cheerless people, actually. Mental Health America estimates that 21 million annually are affected with depression in the nation.

We’re also unhappy. The Happy Planet Index, a project of the New Economics Foundation, measures “the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world.”

The United States isn’t looking so swell.

Life expectancy is just dandy, but results from the study suggest that these are meaningless, tiresome lives. Based on the color-coded index meant to graphically represent the success of nations in terms of life expectancy, life satisfaction and ecological footprint, guess where the U.S. falls.

In the red. Blood red. It represents at least two “poor” components in the index’s model. We’re right alongside Central and Southern Africa. But no country has achieved a proper balance in all areas, according to the study.

And why should we be thrilled with the current state of affairs? Those who do have jobs work some of the longest hours around the globe. The economy is in the hole. Jobs are scarce. Students are leaving college with an average debt of $25,000 — a conservative estimate, at that.

About 50 million U.S. residents are without health insurance — the three primary groups including foreign-born residents who are not citizens, young adults ages 19 to 25, and families with an annual household income of less than $25,000.

We’re downright in the muck. So, why not lift ourselves out?

Despite the overwhelming odds, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan still sees the light.

“In an age where community involvement and partnerships with civil society are increasingly being recognized as indispensable, there is clearly a growing potential for cooperative development and renewal worldwide,” he posited in a news release.

Let’s begin to get back together as a society. Let’s begin to really listen to one another. As humans, it shouldn’t be so hard. Our natural state is a social one, so let’s embrace it.

We can get on the right track by unplugging ourselves from time to time. Spend the day with friends, with no one on a cellphone, computer or tablet device. Enjoy the company of others. Meet your neighbors. If you can’t even imagine who they are, change that. Walk around town and go into that store you’ve always noticed. Talk to the owner. Speak with community leaders at town meetings. Go to concerts, dances, celebrations and all those odd events you might pass over any given day.

We’re all guilty of isolating ourselves from time to time. We can be selfish. Take the first step and make someone else’s day. We’ll sort out those larger issues — debt, poverty, unemployment — after we first learn to live with and appreciate one another. How can we get anywhere otherwise?

Joseph Barbaree is a graduate student studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Tell him what you think at

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