Our current fear problem is not due to a proliferation of threats. Despite all the troubles we face, as my Harvard colleague Steven Pinker has shown, the world of the 21st century is safer for the vast majority of us than the world of previous eras (current pandemic aside). The real issue is that we have too little love in our lives to protect us against our fears.
Americans are getting lonelier. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has written a book about this, and the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration has declared a “loneliness epidemic,” specifically citing “living alone, being unmarried … no participation in social groups, fewer friends, and strained relationships” as the culprits. Clearly, a lack of relationships makes life’s fears harder to cope with.
Read: Why are young people having so little sex?
It is especially notable that today’s adolescents and young adults enjoy less romantic love than in the past. Research shows that young people are far less likely to date, marry, and have sex than in past generations. According to my own analysis, using the General Social Survey, the percentage of married 20-somethings fell from 32 percent to 19 percent between 1989 and 2016. Meanwhile, the percentage who had not had sex in the past year rose from 12 percent to 18 percent.
The pandemic makes things worse by driving friends and neighbors apart. But our political culture has been doing this as well for some time, with brutal efficiency. In 2016, the Pew Research Center found that people were more likely than before to express negative opinions about others simply because of their affiliation with the opposite political party, and this is especially true among those who are highly engaged in politics. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that ran from late 2016 to early 2017, 13 percent of Americans have “ended a relationship with a family member or close friend over the  election.”
The math here is easy: More isolation plus more hostility equals less love; less love equals more fear. To reduce fear, we need to bring more love into our lives. If you’re not sure how to get started, let me suggest the following approach, which starts pretty easy and advances in difficulty.
1. Confess your fear to someone you trust. Many people carry their fears stoically, never sharing them openly with others. Hidden fear often expresses itself obliquely and in unproductive ways, such as hostility or aloofness. It is also a missed opportunity: To confess fear, while scary in and of itself, is an act of vulnerability that stimulates the love you crave, in yourself and in the ones you allow to comfort you.
2. Make your love overt. Today, tell someone you love her or him. Not someone you would normally say that to, but rather to a friend or family member for whom this would not feel natural. The point here is to break a barrier of expression for yourself but in a way that is relatively safe. The more you say “I love you,” the less strange or scary it will feel. It is a small act of courage. The payoff is not just more closeness, but also an increase in your fortitude, which you might need for the next step.