Cross Country Checkup·Checkup

Fighting back against loneliness can be as simple as a smile

Caller Pat Tilley of St. John's, Newfoundland, tells Checkup host Duncan McCue her personal strategy for combating social isolation among seniors and others she encounters in her daily life.
"When I'm in the supermarket or the mall or anywhere out in public and I see an elderly person, I catch their eye and I look at them directly, so they know I notice them and I acknowledge them and I say hello or I smile or both," said Pat. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Listen4:02

Caller Pat Tilley of St. John's, N.L., told Checkup host Duncan McCue that her strategy for fighting social isolation among seniors and others she encounters in her daily life can be as simple as a smile.

"I hate to see people when they're drawn in and caught up in misery," she said.

Whether she's in a supermarket or out for a walk, when Tilley sees a senior, she greets them and smiles. "So they know I notice them and I acknowledge them." 

She adds that although some people may not appreciate the gesture, most do brighten up at the sight of a friendly face. "It makes me happy to see them smile and that makes my day good too."

Listen to the full conversation above, or read the transcript below.


Duncan McCue: What do you think about our question on developing a strategy to combat loneliness in this country?

Pat Tilley: Well, I think it's one that really needs to be talked about. And there's a little thing I do that I think everyone could do. It only takes a minute and I think it really makes a difference to the person and what it is I do is when I'm in the supermarket or the mall or anywhere out in public and I see an elderly person, I catch their eye and I look at them directly, so they know I notice them and I acknowledge them and I say hello or I smile or both. And now some people aren't interested, but most of them brighten up. It's nice to have someone say hello to you and it makes me feel good too. So I think if it was more of that, at least when somebody went out, they wouldn't feel lonely like walking through crowds or passing by people and nobody acknowledging them.

DM: You're making me smile right now just telling me about it, Pat. I did a story once with a group of young fellas who were practicing random acts of kindness and it sounds like that's kind of what you're trying to get out there. Why do you make that effort, Pat?

PT: Well, it makes me happy to see them smile and that makes my day good too, but I hate to see people when they're drawn in and caught up in misery, like sometimes you see people like that. And I think that's really, really sad. So, if you can smile at them and for a minute they're out of it then it's a really good thing to do.

DM: Do you ever get lonely yourself? And if so, how do you get out of it?

PT: I've felt loneliness a few times, but I have some really close friends. I'm really, really lucky. But I think for people who don't have that must, it must feel very lonely.

DM: How important are those friendships to you and do you spend a lot of time cultivating them?

PT: Well, they're extremely important. I don't socialize with a lot of people. I'm happy doing my own things. And so the people I'm friends and close to are like that also. So, there's a nice balance.

DM: Do you notice a difference at all between men and women and the way they approach being alone?

PT: Well, I find that it's easier for women because they feel free to behave a lot more warmly and take risks and say, "Well, can we meet for coffee?" I find men aren't as willing from my little experience of their relationships with each other, but I think that they are a lot more reluctant to do that. And in terms of men wanting to be friends with a woman and vice versa, I think that can be difficult because sometimes someone gets the wrong message.

All comments have been edited and condensed. This online segment was prepared by Samraweet Yohannes.