Loneliness seems to be my worst fear, and when I first moved out on my own it was one of the most frequent emotions I felt. I was new to being on my own, new to the independence of it all. It was a new game, and I had a long way to go to master it. I still have a long way to go, but I believe I have learned a lot about it in the past few weeks.
I got shipped to Baltimore on a business trip all by myself being taught by a company we do business with in the area. One of their veterans mentored me by giving me the advice that he had learned from decades in the industry. It was a great learning experience and I’m very happy with how it helped me develop from a professional standpoint.
What sucked was that I had never felt so alone in the world. I was in unfamiliar territory being pushed into activities I had no familiarity with in an industry I did not know much about with people I was meeting for the first time, and, once I was done with training/working for the day, I would recede into my lonely hotel room with nothing of my own. No pets, no kitchen, no car, no friends. There was a large lack of familiarity with my entire world in that moment, and with that being so pertinent in my consciousness, the loneliness crept in.
I began sabotaging myself in my own thoughts and coming to the conclusion that I had nearly nobody. My life had become my worst nightmare filled with uncertainty and no perceived control. To make matters worse, my girlfriend was very busy all week, giving me no conduit in which to dump my depressive emotions into. The timing was awful, or so it seemed at the time.
After sitting alone, night after night, ruminating in a graveyard for my positivity, I remembered that loneliness was the one emotion that I never want to experience. That simple awareness helped me define what it was exactly that I was experiencing, which helped me to begin thinking of ways I could combat it. I began thinking of ways that I was in fact still connected to the world. I did still have my girlfriend, I have my family waiting for me back home, I had friends and mentors that I could text at any time and they would likely text me right back. With my worst fear clouding my mind, I was still able to find connections with others and make plans to go out for drinks as soon as I got back the next weekend.
The awareness of my emotions and the defining of them was the first step towards becoming happier. With that, I moved on to taking action against that loneliness. And once I went out for drinks and socialized with people, who I care for and who care about me, for hours into the night, I felt a stronger connection to people than ever before. I felt more tied to the world than ever, and I could begin to feel that I belonged to something. I felt happiness, excitement, laughter. I felt purpose.
Every once in awhile, I’ll step back from the day-to-day and question it all. I’ll ask myself, “What is the purpose of this?” or “What is the purpose of life?” Big questions, I know. But don’t they matter? Doesn’t the answer to these questions help us redirect our attention, our focus, to what really matters in life? Well, I think so. And by asking myself these questions in that isolated hotel room, I was able to redirect my focus to how I would prevent feeling loneliness as much as possible and experience more happiness as soon as I could. As a result, I felt a magnitude of connection and purpose beyond any prior moment.
It was a turning point in my life, even if it doesn’t particularly sound like it. But I also began looking backwards through a retrospective lens. I started remembering the times when I had felt the loneliest. For the few years I had lived on my own during college, I seemed to talk to so many people. I was very socially active, partied my butt off, increased the size of my friend circle. I took advantage of all these wonderful things that college provides you. Yet, almost every night, I would go home to sleep in an apartment alone and away from everyone.
Looking back on it, the quality of those connections weren’t very powerful. I had more Facebook friends, more Instagram followers, and more phone numbers than ever. Yet, when I lost time to socialize and instead had to focus on work and school, when I graduated and moved off campus, those connections were too easily severed. The number of connections doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.
Nowadays, in the United States, there are more people diagnosed with clinical depression than ever before. Despite how popular social media is and how many of us live in bustling cities surrounded by people, we still find ourselves feeling more and more lonely. That is because we are ignoring the quality of our connections and focusing only on quantity.
Well, you know what? You can have as many followers as you want, but if those followers only double-tap your pictures and posts without actually expressing utter interest in your life, then it’s practically worthless to your happiness. All that minor connection will give you is a slight dopamine response that is short-lived.
What you need, what we all need, is a deep connection with people. This connection widens our human experience to the beautiful world around us. Connection is what allows us maximum happiness. Connection is what gives us purpose and energy. Connection, true connection, not digital connection, is what will make you wake up feeling utterly fulfilled and appreciative of your life.
Social media is not a good substitute for real social interaction. Authentic connection is achieved with face-to-face interaction and experience and with people who genuinely take interest in your life.
Happiness, purpose, fulfillment, all of these wonderful things that we all long for throughout our lives are possible through connection. Go spend time with your loved ones that truly care. Go grab a bite to eat and talk with the people who are genuinely happy to see you happy. Because after all, happiness is only possible when shared.