Loneliness and social isolation is, quite literally, killing us. The influence of loneliness on the risk of death is comparable to obesity. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled, from 20% to 40%. But what can be done about it? A small town in Sweden is experimenting with a co-living project named Sällbo, and it might just be the solution.

The concept for the new housing complex in Helsingborg — a small town in southern Sweden — is set up so that, of the 72 residents selected to take part, just under half are young people under the age of 25, and the rest are retirees. The project asks all residents to sign a contract promising to spend at least two hours a week with one another. But does forcing people, by contract, to socialize together for an allotted time actually work? Especially people with disparate ages and areas of experience?

Well, yes.

The apartment complex is rent-controlled and laid out in a way that encourages social interactions. In addition to having their own individual apartments and space, tenants have access to multiple “togetherness” areas designed to promote interactions. There is an arts-and-crafts studio and a library which residents have been stocking with books.

Unexpected results

Dragana Curovic, one of the managers of the project, says improving the quality of life of senior residents, who may have lacked daily interactions, was the project’s original goal. But once the team started their research, they soon discovered how much many of the younger tenants could benefit too.

Once the team started their research, they soon discovered how much many of the younger tenants could benefit too.

“I was kind of lonely when I was living alone,” one of the younger residents told the BBC. “I went to work, I went home, and I played on my computer, and went to bed. Here I am kind of forced to go around and meet people.”

The Sällbo project is also hoping to mitigate some of the more negative effects of the amount of time the younger residents spend on social media. The WiFi is free in the communal areas but residents are asked to pay for it in their rooms. Many reported logging on in the communal areas only to find themselves having real conversations with those around them, rather than online.

The project is the first of its kind in the world, but its managers are hoping to expand.

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