Read and watch the full transcript of Baya Voce’s TEDx Talk: The Simple Cure for Loneliness at TEDxSaltLakeCity 2016 conference.
Right click to download the MP3 audio:
Baya Voce – Host of The Art of Connection
Loneliness is an emotional state that we have when we’re feeling disconnected. But our need for connection is ingrained in our DNA. Loneliness is a signal just like fight-or-flight that something isn’t right. Loneliness is a public health crisis.
But one in five Americans suffer from loneliness. Which means if you haven’t personally suffered from loneliness, it’s almost guaranteed that somebody you know closely has. It can cause depression and it can even lead to premature death.
But now more than ever we’re living alone. We’re spending more time online and less time making meaningful in-person connections. So when emotional storms hit, things like losing a job, or going through a divorce, or a death, instead of leaning in towards our communities we’ve learned to suffer alone.
So today I’m going to offer one solution that will bring us more connection and can help cure the epidemic. When I was a kid, I had a really hard time fitting in. I wanted to do whatever I could to belong and to not feel lonely. All I wanted was to find connection.
So my oh-so-wise adolescent self came up with a solution: I was going to be popular. I carried this thought process throughout my teens. But the problem was the more I wanted to be popular, the more it fueled my need for attention and approval. And when I was 20 years old, as fate would have it, auditions for MTV’s reality show The Real World came into town. Now for a girl still starving for approval and attention, this was my ticket.
Now for some of us when we think about reality TV, we don’t really have that strong of a reaction, never really watched it, don’t quite get what all the fuss is about. But for others of us we do have a strong reaction when we think about reality TV, and we generally fall into one of two camps. The first camp is like, you literally could not pay me enough to go on a reality TV show. In fact, reality TV is everything that is wrong with our society today.
And then the second camp is like go on a reality TV show, ‘Honey, I should have my own reality TV show. I would be the next Snooki for sure’. But with a history like mine, I’ll give you one guess which camp I fell into. And at 21 years old I moved to Brooklyn as part of seven strangers picked to live in a house. I love this quote by Jim Carrey; he says: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer”. But how many of you have gone after a goal based off of the feelings you thought you would feel once you accomplish that goal? The Real World didn’t bring me connection like I thought it would. In fact, if anything I was lonelier than I had ever been during those 15 minutes of fame.
But this lesson propelled me into the work I do now: studying connection. And whether it’s the events I produce or the show that I host, or the coaching sessions I have, everything exists to create connection, because here I am now my oh-so-wise adult self searching for what actually creates connection. And here’s what I found. In order to feel connected we need to feel seen, heard, and valued.
You may have heard of Blue Zones. Blue Zones are areas all over the world where researchers have found that people lived the longest and happiest lives. So everybody does this differently. Communities in like Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; some pray together while others they walk together, and others simply spend more time nurturing relationships with their families. But the one thing that they all do in common is they prioritize connection. They focus on their relationships.
What I found is that these societies have created something that I call an anchor of connection. An anchor is created simply by spending quality time with people who see, hear and value you. But how do we create our own anchors of connection? I’m so glad you asked. The most powerful way to create an anchor is through ritual.
Now I know when we think about ritual, we generally think about religion or sacred ceremony. But today I want to redefine ritual as something that’s not necessarily religious or sacred but instead something that we’re already doing on a day-to-day basis. The key to making ritual such a powerful tool for connection is that ritual is repeated action plus intention. When you combine repeated action and intention, ritual becomes ingrained in you just like habits do. The best places to find ritual are with your friends and families and your intimate relationships and within your communities.
Now we’ve been gathering around fires forever to storytelling and connect. For me and my girlfriends, our couches act as a metaphorical fire that we gather around. Every Monday night we throw on our leggings, we head to one of our houses, we pour yourself some Rozay, we pile onto the couch and we just talk. We’ve ritualized Monday nights as a time where we come to connect and fill our tanks for the rest of the week. And while plenty of Mondays we’re coming and we’re talking about the things that are exciting and going well in our lives but on lots of Mondays we come with our tanks empty, whether that’s the small storms that have built up, just daily wear and tear or the bigger storms, like going through a divorce or a miscarriage. But whether we’re grieving or celebrating we’ve ritualized Monday nights as our anchor of connection.
After Monday nights I head over to my partner’s house and we have a ritual that we’ve been doing for the past year or so, where before bed we each say the thing I love about you most today is. And then we both say something really kind about one another. Now easy enough to do when we’re feeling in love, not that easy to do when we’re in a fight. In fact, when we first started this and we were in a fight and I would be angry it would generally look like this. “Hey babe, do you want to do the thing I love about you most?”
“Okay. Do you want to just like try it?”
“Pssss not right now. I’m not in mood”.
“Okay. Maybe, just maybe just once.”
“OK. The thing I love about you most today is how your eyes sparkle when you’re wrong and I’m right.”
But what I could have never guessed this ritual would do is expand my capacity for kindness and compassion. And now when we’re in a fight, sometimes I even say the thing I love about him most first. It’s this ritual that has carried us through our storms. So when our fights could just as easily disconnect us and leave us both feeling lonely, instead we’ve ritualized our anchor of connection.
You know, it’s interesting, now that I know what Blue Zones are, whenever I’m traveling I’m always looking for Blue Zone qualities. And recently I took a trip to France with some of the same girlfriends who I spent Monday nights with. Landing in Paris was amazing and exactly like you think it was if you’ve never been — the cobblestone streets, shutters, the windowsills with the flowers, the bakery’s whispering ‘screw you gluten-free diet, you’re not welcome here’.
In France, meals are rituals. So dinners for instance, they start later and last longer and whether it’s two people or 10 people you sit down and you enjoy the meal for at least two hours and usually three. The food takes a long time, no phones are out. And when the meal is over you sit and you talk some more. Day in and day out the French go back to the table for their ritualized anchor of connection.
Our last stop in France was Nice. We arrived 12 hours after the Bastille Day attack where the truck driver drove through the fireworks celebration tragically killing 84 people. It would have been so easy for everybody to retreat, to disconnect, to suffer alone. But instead what we saw were storefronts and restaurants opening their doors. And even just 12 hours after complete tragedy people went back to the table. They went back to their ritual.
We weren’t in the mood to go out that night. So we went back to the apartment. We put on our leggings, we poured ourselves some Rozay, we piled onto the couch and we just talked. We went back to our ritual, because in the face of a storm, in the face of disaster, in the face of complete tragedy, ritual acts as your anchor of connection.
Now my core desire to be light and approved of, it might never go away just like your core desires might not either. But what I know now that I didn’t know when I was 20 years old, praying that the real world was my answer to loneliness and my ticket to connection, is that connection isn’t created by the things we go get. Connection is created by the things we go back to.
So my invitation to you today is simple: Don’t do something new. Find something you’re already doing with your friends and families or in your intimate relationships or within your communities. And do that thing over and over and over again. Do it with intention. Do it during the good times and do it during the mundane. So when the inevitable emotional storms hit you have your ritual to go back to. You have your very own anchor of connection.