Konnichiwa is a Japanese greeting, typically a mid-day greeting. It is also used as an informal greeting, “hello”

At the age of 21, I woke up one morning in Yokosuka; a city of a half million at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. It also has the distinction of being home to principal elements of the United States Seventh Fleet, including the only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan. In 1985, Ia  transformed from an Army soldier to a Navy sailor and was sent to the other side of the world. In 1985, the other side of the world may as well been another world.

After a 15 hour flight and a 3 hour drive. I arrived at the base at 3 in the morning. My welcome was a pillow and a grunt from the master-at-arms as he pointed to a cot. 4 hours later,  I woke up to an empty room that look more like a jail cell. I open a window that looked over the village to smells and sounds that yelled, you’re not in Kansas Dorthy. I wouldn’t step foot in the U.S. for another 27 months. At that moment, all 6’4′ 195 lbs. of me was overwhelmed with sadness. The pit in your stomach and “What have I done” kind of sadness. At that moment, I cried.

Then, in the depth of my despair, I heard konnichiwa. It came with a North Carolina twang. There in the door stood this giant of a southern boy; Steve. He was an Operations Specialist that arrived the night before. A hello from a friendly face lifted me from -50 to +50 in a second. That’s power.

“Loneliness is proof that your innate search for connection is intact”

A smile and word is a powerful thing. We live on a planet of 7.5 billion individuals and no two are the same. But yet, we all share one thing in common: The desire to feel connected. That feeling is security, comfort, peace and acceptance.

When I think of what loneliness feels like, I remember that day in Japan. Here is the cool thing, that day in Japan is also a memory of joy.  That day reminds me that despite all of our difference, we desire connection. We admire independence but our happiness is interconnected; it is somewhat of a paradox.

The primitive emotion of loneliness points out a missing part of the design, a weakness. We are designed to be social creatures. Social neuroscientist Jim Coan did a study that showed we favor connection. He did this by shocking people and holding hands.

When we are feeling threatened or under stress, the  hypothalamus, which among other things helps govern our body’s hormonal stress response, springs into action. The hypothalamus releases the stress hormone cortisol, excessive levels cause anxiety and depression.

Jim showed people X’s and O’s on a screen. An X’s came with a chance of an electric shock on the ankle. He did this and measured the amount of cortisol. Then he had a stranger hold their hand and did it again. This time the cortisol was less. Then he changed the stranger with a spouse and the cortisol dropped even lower. This experiment was done many times in different ways and the results were undeniable: when comes to being shocked on the ankle, we like our hand held.

The innate search for connection is an integral part to becoming more than we are by ourselves. That search is not just for one but in all connections. I was in the military for 11 years before a injury during mine sweeping in the Gulf retired me from service. The sadness didn’t come from my disability as much as from leaving my comrades.

If you doubt the importance of connection, pay attention to what psychologists call “emotional contagion.” It is the ability to connect with the herd. An emotional event like a person laughing spreads to others laughing. Individuals have the ability to emotionally connect despite language, ethnic and cultural barriers. The problem is they often choose not to for a bunch of stupid reasons: I say stupid because they typically end up hurting themselves.

Possibly the worst aspect of mental illness is the barrier and pain I see that comes from the lack of emotional connection. It is a barrier to relationship, to the very thing that makes us greater than we are alone. A barrier to the very thing that makes us whole.

If you don’t have that feeling of security, comfort, peace and acceptance: Find It. It will take some effort on your part but it’s totally worth it. If you do have that feeling of security, comfort, peace and acceptance: Keep It. It will take some effort on your part but is totally worth it.


-Reluctant  Therapist

P.S. Smile and tell somewhat Konnichiwa   🙂