Have you stopped hanging out with your friends lately? If so, I’d say “you’re not alone” – but the truth is - you probably ARE alone. That’s not a good thing. Professor John T. Cacioppo is a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and coauthor of the book Loneliness. He says roughly 60 million Americans feel lonely – to the point of unhappiness – at any given moment. That’s about 20 percent of us! Part of the problem is that we’ve stopped confiding in each other. In fact, it’s becoming an alarming trend.

In 1985, the General Social Survey talked to nearly 1,500 adults about their social network – how many friends they had. Recently, sociologists repeated the survey and they found that these days, we have one-third fewer friends on average than 20 years ago. People with whom we can discuss “important” matters, like our health, job and current events. So, do YOU fall into that category? To find out, here are some questions for you to answer. We got them from the Chicago Tribune:

  • Who could you call to pick up your child from school, or day care if you were in a bind? 
  • How many of your neighbors do you know?   
  • Who would you call if your car broke down? 
  • Who feeds your pets, collects your mail and waters your plants when you leave town? 
  • How many of your online friends do you socialize with face-to-face?

If you continually answered “my spouse” or “my mom” to the ‘who-would-you-turn-to’ type questions, know this: family members tend to be similar in religion, race and economic class – and this limits your social world. Cacioppo says knowing that we can count on help from outside the family is what leads to longer, healthier, richer lives. So, here are a few things you can do to increase your social network. We got these tips from Harvard University researchers: 

  • Start or join a carpool. 
  • Help coach a Little League team, even if you don’t have a kid playing. 
  • Audition for a community theatre, or volunteer to usher. 
  • See if your neighbor needs anything the next time you run to the store.