- Lucia Blasco
- BBC World News
After joy comes loneliness, Benedetti wrote, but what comes after loneliness?
The pandemic isolation is driving what social welfare organizations such as AARP or the United Health Foundation in the US already predict as an “epidemic of loneliness.”
It doesn’t sound encouraging. However, there are positive ways of living with loneliness and even getting a positive side out of it, explains the American psychotherapist France Healey.
A year before the pandemic broke out, Healey began investigating a curious phenomenon in South Korea that claims loneliness as a way of life: honjok or “tribes of one”.
It was a movement that was born out of the counterculture, explains the author of “Honjok: the art of living in solitude” (2020), who investigated 15 individuals of different ages who practice it.
Many young people, especially women, decided to create their own “tribe”, rejecting the collectivist values of South Korean society and embracing the emerging individualism to form one-person households, opting for a solitary life.
“The honjok is an invitation to reflect on who we are Really, beyond the established social and cultural norms, and to enjoy solitude “, the writer tells BBC Mundo.
In this interview he told us about the contributions to our times of these “tribes” who choose solitude.
The honjok is little known in the West, when did you hear about he and how did you investigate it?
I first heard the term honjok in 2019, through my editor. If you start looking on the internet, you will see that there is not much information available, so I decided to investigate it and find out what we can learn about it.
When I was doing my research, the pandemic had not yet arrived but I was curious about these people who seek to give meaning to their lives through loneliness.
The honjok It started as a movement in 2017 led by young South Koreans who began using the hashtag #honjok to define who they were and how they lived, challenging historically established social pressures and norms that push them to marry and start a family.
Those norms dictate that men have successful jobs in prestigious companies that allow them to support a family, and that women always prioritize the family, no matter how much they have a high academic training or a career, and that they meet the expectations of the demanding standards of beauty.
In response to frustration with these strong social and cultural pressures, honjok they chose to live alone to find a form of freedom.
I thought it would be interesting to talk to people in South Korea who practice the honjok to know through their voices what it means to them.
And what does it mean? Could it be said that the honjok It is a lifestyle?
The honjok it is more than a lifestyle… it is a way of being in the world.
“Hon” means to be alone and “jok” is tribe, so honjok it means “tribes of one”.
It’s a beautiful concept, because it translates into making a conscious decision to explore your own preferences and interests in depth, and to cultivate your true inner world.
Many times they put the honjok the label of “lonely”, with all the negative connotations that that word carries implicitly.
However, they are people who made a conscious decision to live alone and to spend time enjoying activities alone. They are, let’s say, successful loners.
“Honjok is a beautiful concept because it translates into making a conscious decision to explore one’s preferences and interests in depth.”
By talking to them, I learned that loneliness actually allows them to have more fruitful and positive relationships with other people.
It’s interesting that you describe that loneliness as a conscious decision. What can we learn about the chosen loneliness of the “honjok” in times of imposed loneliness?
It is a very good question for the time we live in now.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the United States, have shown that loneliness caused by social isolation contributes to increasing physical and mental problems such as depression, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s, and that they compromise the immune system. So we are experiencing a crisis.
But being alone is not the same as feeling alone. Loneliness can be seen as an opportunity to really be with ourselves and explore where we find meaning in our lives, how we feel being with ourselves.
It offers us the opportunity to work on our identity beyond how we related to others and interacted with the world before the pandemic.
The honjok It can be a way to understand that when you allow yourself to live with loneliness, even if it is uncomfortable at first, you cultivate a deeper self-awareness. Through contemplative activities and curiosity towards your inner world, you can feel a true spiritual richness being with yourself.
Many existentialists have spoken about this invitation to know oneself that solitude offers us. So it all depends on how we approach it.
I believe that we must teach people to do a deeper inner work to find themselves.
Now we feel uncomfortable with this loneliness, but that does not mean that we cannot take advantage of it to feel connected with ourselves.
The pandemic has forced us to look for other ways to be with ourselves, and this may be an opportunity to learn to really know ourselves.
You say that the honjok it is the art of living in solitude. In what specific ways can we apply it In our life?
A honjok Thirty-year-old from South Korea told me that before she was a very sociable and outgoing person but she started to adopt the lifestyle honjok and had a kind of spiritual enlightenment by practicing more activities of mindfulness and meditation, and developing her curiosity toward creative and artistic interests with things she had been putting off because she had other distractions.
It can be a good example of how to apply the honjok In our life.
I recommend spending time, starting with a few minutes each day, on things as simple as paying attention to your breath, cultivating creativity, looking for ways to activate other parts of the brain, developing different habits or behavior patterns that give us more diversity. to ourselves.
It is also very interesting to write a journal, or simply write down our thoughts, because it helps us to be reflective and to work on self-awareness, especially when we suffer stress or anxiety.
It is important to treat these activities not only as a hobby, but as something as urgent as other things we do in life.
Interviewed honjok who discovered that they were stronger, supportive and caring than they thought traveling alone or spending time alone in nature. The impact can be enormous to awaken our senses.
I felt very privileged to be able to learn about these people and to know their stories, which helped me to refute my own prejudices. The people I spoke to were proud to lead that lifestyle and willing to make the most of the opportunity to live alone.
We are talking about people who live in South Korea, but whatthere are “honjok” in other parts of the world?
Well, it’s certainly a growing trend that we’re seeing in other parts of the world, not just South Korea, even if they don’t define themselves as honjok.
In Sweden, about 40% of households are made up of a single person.
In the United States, there are an estimated 28% single-person households.
In Japan and other parts of the world, more and more people are choosing sologamia (marrying oneself).
They are different “tribes of one” and I would say that they are going to increase.
“Being alone in life requires courage”, you say in your book when you talk about “life honjok“Why are we so afraid of loneliness?
I think we are very afraid of being alone because it scares us that we do not like what we discover. It is a reckoning with the places within ourselves where we feel we are not enough.
When we are in the collectivity of the world, we can think that we are the activities that we develop in it; that our identity is our job, the money we earn or what we do with it.
It takes a lot of courage to unzip all that and get to what’s behind it. It takes courage to face the discomfort of being with ourselves and risk feeling the vulnerability that we do not like everything we see, to recognize that there are some empty places that we must cultivate more.
That is why it is brave to be with ourselves and with our true identity.
When you recognize that and cultivate tolerance, through small incremental changes over time, you can discover the richness of your own essence that allows you to be more connected, better set your limits, and accept yourself.
It is a part of ourselves that we have to work hard and that honjok have prioritized.
You also write in your book on the connections between loneliness and self-esteem, and the importance of “making friends with ourselves.” ¿What is the link?
I have a private psychotherapy practice and the main focus of my work is self-assessment.
What I have seen in my work, and also in the process of writing this book, is that when we begin to cultivate self-worth and invest in knowing ourselves, beyond our own identity – and COVID can help us do that because of how the way we relate to the world has changed, and because of the time we spend with ourselves — then we can better cope with the desolation that loneliness causes us at first.
And we get to a point where we feel comfortable being with ourselves.
I see loneliness, or rather loneliness, which is a broader and more positive term, as a way to build and cultivate our self-esteem.
It is in it where we can see what our true values are, what our authentic self is and what really motivates us. It allows us to ask ourselves the right questions, discover what our unique talents are and how we want to use them in the world and in our community.
Being alone can lead us to look for ways to be more decisive, creative and self-aware.
It is about cultivating a mental framework that is born out of the curiosity to discover ourselves, in which we become leaders of our own lives and regain control.
Thats why he honjok it is, after all, a search to return to our own essence.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.