June 1, 2023 -- With the U.S. surgeon general warning of a crisis of loneliness among older Americans, one optimistic voice we could all use right now is Morrie Schwartz.
Schwartz, a Brandeis University sociology and social psychology professor who passed away in 1995, was the beloved subject of Tuesdays with Morrie, the bestselling book by Mitch Albom that sold 18 million copies and brought to life his approach to living during his final year with ALS.
Happily, Schwartz’s son, Rob, a journalist and music producer, has just published The Wisdom of Morrie, a book his father wrote after he retired and before he was diagnosed with ALS.
The book, which the younger Schwartz found in his father’s desk after he died, is filled with tips for living “vibrantly” with hope instead of despair. The book also dives deeper into Morrie’s exploration of life’s fundamental questions and concludes that it’s the power of human connection that may matter most.
WebMD sat down with Rob Schwartz to discuss why the book is so important now and how he’s devoted to keeping his dad’s legacy alive:
WebMD: What are a few solutions your dad (and the book) would offer about coping with loneliness?
Schwartz: My father would be very analytical about this question to start. He would ask the person to think about the cause of their loneliness. Is this an existential crisis where the person is feeling alienated from all of society, or is this more a case where the person simply has no one in their life?
In the former case, my dad would suggest readjusting your orientation. First, accept how you’re feeling and don’t make yourself feel guilty or inadequate about it. Next, concentrate on what connects you to the world at large. Think about people or things you love, the things you are interested in and the things that excite you.
Then try to expand on those things by learning more about them, by connecting with people with similar interests, and by reaching out to people.
WebMD: If you start to feel lonely, is there something you can instantly do to reframe how you're feeling?
Schwartz: My father would start by saying you need to recognize and face how you are feeling. In The Wisdom of Morrie he calls it facing reality. You must face it directly.
Don’t be afraid to mourn or feel sadness for what you’ve lost. Take a few minutes a day to mourn, but that can’t be the end of it. Face the problem and look for both short- and long-term solutions.
Short-term solutions could be something that gives you immediate joy like ice cream, a TV show, a comedy routine, or some great design or art. Long-term solutions have to do with finding people to connect with. You can look for these people through common interests, past acquaintances, etc.
WebMD: What do you want readers to know about staving off loneliness and trying to live the most connected/fulfilled life?
Schwartz: Find what makes you laugh and pursue it, reach out to those around you and try to create a common bond, try to focus your energy and be self-aware. Try meditation. It focuses your mind and actually relieves you of your worries.
Lastly, and this is a big one, try to serve your community in any way you can. Interestingly, service makes us feel more useful and connected to people. See what charities or shelters in your area need volunteers. Any kind of volunteer work will offer you connection to people and give you a sense of purpose in the process.
WebMD: How do you think your dad would want us to better connect with each other?
Schwartz: Truthfully, a lot of this in the book and what he’s suggesting for seniors applies to everybody. He gives practical tips on how to live more joyously and creatively. He writes that we need to concentrate on laughter and lightness. What makes you laugh is important. People tend to lose that in their life, especially as they get older.
WebMD: What would he suggest if someone felt very disconnected?
Schwartz: He writes that meditation is extremely useful in focusing your mind, that it’s best to clear your mind and try to feel relieved of all of your burdens instead of concentrating on your troubles. He also writes about learning new things, joining groups, and taking time out of your busy life to spend time with people you love.
WebMD: What would your dad think about life in America today?
Schwartz: My dad saw this coming in some ways, but he would be sad and disappointed at how our society has become so fragmented and divided. I think social media gets blamed a lot for how fragmented we are, but social media is more of a symptom than the cause.
What’s the best part of releasing this book now?
Schwartz: It’s wonderful to get my dad’s message out. His message is about taking care of the people around you and treating them as lovingly and gently as you can. I feel a deep need to keep pushing his legacy forward. The publication of this book is just one way I can do that.
WebMD: What do you miss the most about your dad?
Schwartz: I miss spending time with him, laughing with him and enjoying life. When he got ill, it was quite a big shock to us. It was good that we had time to process his illness while he was alive. Despite all of that, it took me a long time to grieve for him. That’s one of the reasons it took so long for this book to come out.