Dear Lauren,

I’m in college, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me – I’m just not enjoying my classes, and I miss home. I haven’t really connected to any really good friends yet, even though the people here seem nice. I just feel so sad all the time. Ugh.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Oh, dear. As someone who used to get very homesick, I can relate to that icky feeling. But now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser?!), I can help you with some perspective.

We’re not always happy. Sometimes we’re sad. That’s part of life. Sadness doesn’t feel good, but it’s not necessarily bad. For example, the homesickness that you feel can make you realize how much you love your family. Not a bad outcome.

I just read a wonderful book called Coraline. It’s a classic because the heroine is a little girl who’s terrified (she has to face horrifying beings in a weird world through a brick wall), but in order to save her parents and herself, she’s brave and she does what needs to be done despite her fears. That’s what we have to do in the face of homesickness: say to the homesickness, “Okay. You’re here. Fine. But I’m going to go to class anyway, and make friends anyway, and do my homework anyway. Stay here if you want. You don’t scare me.”

We can get more freaked out by our freaking out than by the thing that originally made us sad.

Sometimes we get so freaked out by being sad that we’re more freaked out by our freaking out than by the thing that originally made us sad. So just take deep breaths and calm yourself down. Soothe yourself like you’re your own mother: “Okay, so I’m homesick. It’s not fun to be homesick, but it’s not a bad thing. And it’s not the end of the world. So I like my home and my family, and I’m not with them now. That’s okay. I’ll be okay. I’m just sad now, and that’s alright.” And take a few more deep breaths. Don’t be afraid of the homesickness, and don’t let it freak you out. Just calmly accept it as your companion right now.

I think it’s very appropriate to quote Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, on aish.com. He said: “The opposite of pleasure is not pain; the opposite of pleasure is comfort.” Pleasure is working hard then sitting back and enjoying the fruits of your labor. And “labor” is the key word. Just being at home and being comfortable is really nice. But being away and working hard at school and even being homesick, and then pulling through that experience, will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment that you never could have gotten staying within your comfort zone.

I remember during my year abroad in Israel eating in Tea and Pie after finals. I had worked really really assiduously, then I was sitting with good friends, eating good food (I can still taste it now – warm apple pie and sweet black tea – yummm), listening to nice music, with candles on the table and people conversing all around. It took the “working hard for my finals” to really enjoy that evening out. The opposite of pleasure is comfort. Being uncomfortable feels bad but it’s often a great learning experience for us, and leads to pleasure at the other side of the experience.

Being homesick can be a great teacher. It can teach you what makes you sad and what makes you happy, in the crucible of very intense feelings. Notice the times that you feel less homesick, and do more of that. Notice the times that you feel more homesick, and ask yourself, “What can I learn about myself and the world from this?”

I’ll tell you something else. Being sad is sometimes helpful in that it intensifies your feelings of joy when you get to your happy place again. The other night I took my children to a Cuban dance show. There was exuberant music with bongo drums and trumpets and celebratory dancing… it was beautiful. And in the middle of all the joyful exhilaration, there was a dark piece about war. When the company moved back into the exuberant, joyful, celebrating life dancing again, it seemed that much more exuberant, that much more joyful, that much more alive because of its juxtaposition with the war piece. Being sad isn’t bad; it highlights the happy times in our lives.

Isn’t this a gorgeous picture? Incredible color, right? Amazingly beautiful artistry. Do you know where this picture was taken? In the Target parking lot! Do you know what this picture reminds me? You can find beauty anywhere and everywhere. You can find beauty in homesickness. You can find beauty – and even a little happiness, maybe – in your college. But don’t worry about chasing the happiness. Just don’t be afraid of the homesickness, and the happiness just might creep in, a little at a time.