Bye, Bye, Loneliness

“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable,” Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH says. “It will kill you.”

Excerpts from an article written By Deborah Yaffe in the Princeton Alumni Weekly

Photo: Graham MacIndoe

JEREMY NOBEL (Class of ’77)— PHYSICIAN, POET, public-health crusader — is scrolling through his phone, hunting for the snapshot he took a few days earlier: New York’s Washington Square Park at night, its famous arch bathed in floodlights whose reflected glow illuminates the intersecting paths below.

The photo’s meaning came to him only later, he says. “When I took this, I didn’t see the crossroads,” Nobel tells me, as we gaze at his screen together. “Because I wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, I’m at a crossroads in my life.’ It wasn’t that. It was, like, ‘Wow, there’s a kind of pretty Arc de Triomphe in the light.’ But the crossroads were there.” 

Did he perceive them subliminally? “Who the hell knows?” Nobel says cheerfully.

The moment encapsulates Nobel’s vision of how artistic expression can help heal the aching loneliness of modern life: first, by directing focused attention to a moment of experience; next, by encouraging further reflection on the meaning of that experience; and finally, by forging new human connections as you share that meaning with another person.


COLORED CONSTRUCTION PAPER, markers, and decorative stickers spilled over the conference table. Inside a Manhattan office, Nobel and a consultant facilitator were giving representatives from two Long Island community centers a hands-on demonstration of what the UnLonely Project calls a “creativity circle” — a support-group meeting centered on an arts-related activity. 

Early next year, the community centers plan to run six-week programs of creativity circles targeting caregivers for the elderly and the sick. But on this crisp morning in early fall, social workers and managers bent over their own papers, creating squares for a group quilt. In one quadrant of their squares, participants represented their strengths; in the other three, they portrayed their support systems, the activities they rely on to decompress, and their hopes for the future. Some stuck to words. Others accessorized with stickers. One person drew trees and flowers.

It was interesting, one participant remarked, how the construction-paper square formed a unified picture of the resources available, creating a whole whose outlines might not have emerged in conversation. Nobel nodded. “Sometimes you can see the relationships between things differently if they’re laid out as made objects,” he said… more

The Foundation for Art & Healing