One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is if I feel lonely on the road. I've been traveling solo full time for close to two years so it makes sense when people ask me that. The simple answer is of course I've been alone and felt loneliness. It's the feeling I've thought the most about. Why do I feel this? How is it affecting my life? Why does it seem like I'm the only one who feels like this? I've learned the answers to a lot of those questions and began to appreciate the importance of being alone and feeling loneliness over the past two years. I'll share more of my experience and thoughts below, but Amelia Earhart (the Amelia in theo & amelia) simplifies my thoughts in one quote.
“Being alone is scary, but not as scary as feeling alone in a relationship.”
Let's start with the most important fact
If you've felt or currently feel lonely, you're not alone. According to multiple studies, you're actually in the minority if you lack the feeling of loneliness or are unhappy with your relationships at some point in your life. That's a problem and we all know it.
Over half of Americans have felt that nobody knows them well and 75% of people report not being happy with their current friendships.
I've been a stat in both reports and woke up one day tired of it. 7.5 billion people in the world and I feel lonely? Get out of here.
I saw what loneliness was doing to my health physically and mentally and knew I had to find a solution. Later down the road, I met people who were taking all kinds of pills to treat "loneliness." I never even considered that as an option because I think certain medications only put a bandage on the side effects of loneliness. Depression being the biggest one. To solve the true problem, it takes a greater understanding of the root cause and just as much work to implement the necessary changes.
Being alone cured my loneliness
One of the main reasons I decided to sell everything and travel around the world was because I felt lonely. I was surrounded by people and things every day, but I still felt it. It was kind of a confusing feeling and I wanted it to go away. That's when I realized that I was surrounded by the wrong people and had materialistic objects defining who I was.
It wasn't the fault of the people I was surrounded by. I was living the majority of my life subconsciously and wasn't even sure who I was, like most people. How were they supposed to truly know me? So, my conclusion was that I needed time alone to figure out what matters the most to me and then surround myself around the right people within a community that I truly belong in.
After traveling to 20 countries and spending a year living in an Airstream while exploring cities all across the US, I found that only one thing matters. Belonging to the right community. It didn't matter if I was in a South African village where running water and electricity was a dream, a hotel penthouse in NYC or a remote farmhouse in Iceland, the happiest people felt like they belonged within their community. The size of the community had no impact on the level of happiness.
Yep, the cure to loneliness is to spend time alone until you no longer feel lonely being alone. Say that out loud a few times. Once you're able to accomplish that, it's time to put effort into being an active member in a like minded community.
My new favorite word and emotion is belonging. I was always focused on the word happiness, but I don't think you can achieve that without the feeling of belonging. When you experience true belonging, it's one of the greatest feelings out there. I tend to feel that when I'm with my siblings. When we were younger, we literally spent every waking moment together unless we were at school. We were either outside playing a sport until my mom yelled at us to come in for dinner or playing video games on rainy days. Unfortunately, we are all spread out across the US and the feeling of belonging that I have with my siblings is tough to beat.
So, how do you find a community that you belong in? Well, it's something I've been working on for the past couple months so I'm going to have to write a follow up post on my progress. However, I can tell you that after realizing how important the feeling of belonging is, I don't have as many "friends" as before. I realized who my people aren't. I also no longer feel obligated to participate in activities that make me fit in or seem normal. I put in the mental effort and experienced a lot of hard moments to figure out what doesn't make me feel lonely (the cure to loneliness is to spend time alone until you no longer feel lonely being alone). I'm not giving that feeling up just to fit in or continue building surface level relationships.
...to be continued.
Have you experienced something similar? Are you working on removing bad relationships or building your community? Let me know!
Want to learn more about belonging before I share my progress? Pick up one of my favorite books, Belong by Radha Agrawal.