Do you ever feel lonely? If so, welcome to the club. Most people are lonely from time to time. For many people, it is a chronic condition that affects not just their mental state but also their physical condition. Some experts have reported that loneliness can be as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having six alcoholic drinks a day. England even created a minister of loneliness in 2018 to develop programs to alleviate the problem.

Dr. Jeremy Nobel, who is on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, believes that artistic expression can help heal the aching loneliness of modern life.

He became fascinated by the ways creative expression can mitigate the effects of trauma and loneliness after 9/11. He learned about a project in which young people in New York City were asked to create art that expressed their feelings about that catastrophic event. The experience had a positive impact on every one of the participants, no matter their age, sex, race or background.

Believing that the impact of art on healing was too important to ignore, Nobel created the nonprofit Foundation of Art and Healing in 2004. The organization’s mission was to work with partners and communities to develop creative expression programs.

“Over 50% of people are often lonely, even though they’re connected in the digital world,” says Nobel. “They think something is missing; they wonder where they belong, but they don’t want to admit that they’re lonely. It’s important to acknowledge that you’re lonely. Be in the moment. Do something creative. Make something. Draw a picture. Sing a song. Tell your story — any story — and share it. Listen to other people’s stories.”

Nobel says, “As a society we have to take loneliness seriously, because it’s a public health crisis. Loneliness is not an illness, it’s an emotion, often fleeting. It’s not your fault. It’s the most human of feelings.” To that end, he developed Project Unlonely in 2016, the signature program of the foundation of Art & Healing. According to Nobel, “Project Unlonely is focused on increasing awareness of the issue of loneliness; reducing the stigma associated with loneliness; and developing sound evidence-based creative artistic expression programs.”


Nobel has expressed his own thoughts and feelings through poetry ever since his days as an undergraduate at Princeton. He won the Bain-Swigget Prize from Princeton University and the American Academy of Poets Prize from the University of Pennsylvania.

Here is one of his poems.

“Tell me

about the pain

Is it sharp or dull?

What brings it on?


What makes it go away?

Does aspirin seem to help?

Can you tolerate greasy foods?

Does it feel a bit better after eating?

Is it worse in the morning or evening?

Does it get relieved when you lie down?


Does it come and go or is the pain constant?

Does it radiate through to your back or shoulder?

Can you point a finger to the exact spot where it hurts most?

Do you wake in the morning, crowned with a halo of pain?

Do you remember a time when you remembered no pain?

Have you come to depend on the pain to keep you alive?


Do you feel like a small animal nibbling inside you?

Does it crumple you in half when the pain comes?

When you were young did you torture animals?

Do you recall how green the grass used to be?

Were you faithful to your first lover?

Are you afraid of the dark?


Tell me about the pain?

Is it sharp or dull?

Tell me.”

Nobel has just published a new book entitled, “Project Unlonely: Healing Our Crisis of Disconnection.” The book came out after I wrote this article but based on that poem and on my conversation with Jeremy Nobel, I’m sure that it will be a most compelling read.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns.

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