Homesickness is a longing to be near your sources of happiness

Homesickness is such a common part of being human that people have experienced it since ancient times. From the Jews in exile in the Bible to military personnel today, this problem has tracked mankind through the ages. We may be more sophisticated in the 21st century, but we can't deny the needs of the human heart

Scientists came up with an interesting theory several years ago. They believe the brain imprints familiar images, sounds, and even smells, collecting them in a kind of "mental scrapbook."

As we circulate among family, friends, our house and our hometown, we keep revisiting these collections and the repetition of their familiarity produces pleasant sensations, like a hat or glove that fits you perfectly. It feels good.

When we're away from those familiar people and things, we miss them in a way that's biological, as well as emotional. We long for that satisfying familiarity.

And then, of course, there's love. It's hard to be away from people you love, even from your stuff, like your car or motorcycle or guitar or your house. But especially people. God created us to live in relationships and to love one another. That's what really matters in life. When you're away from that, you finally understand what's truly important.

Why you want to make things right

Something else comes into play too. We are creatures who want to make things right. When something is askew or out of order, we get the urge to straighten it out or put it in its proper place.

That's part of what happens with homesickness, except we're the thing that's out of place. Our world has changed and we feel like an alien in it. Until we get used to the new people and images, we feel anxious. The unfamiliar puts us slightly on edge, as if we're trying to solve a problem but we're not even sure what the question is.

We want our life to feel comfortable again.

When things are out of our control, we can feel adrift, almost helpless. We do what's expected of us, we go through the routines, but it just doesn't feel right when part of you is someplace else.

What to do about homesickness

Well, all that said, what can you do about homesickness? How can you relieve it? What positive steps can you take to feel better?

1. Letters and emails bring responses
Nothing is as welcome as a letter or email from home, but keep in mind that the more people you write, the more people who will write back to you. We often forget that and expect people to think of us and write first. When they get an email or text from you, it will jog their memory and make them feel obligated to write you back. Letter writing has become a lost art, but your letters don't have to be long or even profound. Tell others about your day, what interesting things you've seen, odd stuff that's happened, how you appreciate them or miss them. Ask them specific questions about people. Include a photo, if you can. Of course email is a fast, reliable way to communicate as well, and most of us can type faster than we can write with a pen. Whichever you choose, writing will take your mind off yourself and put it on those you love. You'll feel better while you're writing and while you're reading the reply.

2. Look for the good
Even a lousy situation can have something good about it if you look hard enough. There's a person you look forward to talking with or some activity that makes you feel better. Staying positive and trying to find something worthwhile about your experience can make it more bearable. If nothing else, search for a lesson you can take away from it that will help you in the future. One of the hidden values of hard times is that they toughen us up for future hard times. We can look back and say, "I got through that. I can get through this.."

3. Occupy your mind.
The human mind can only think about one thing at a time, and if you try, you can give it something pleasant to think about. Reading is good, but hobbies are even better. Look for something that doesn't take up much space. In olden days, sailors used to carve scrimshaw (ivory) to relieve their homesickness. Something that involves concentration is best. But there are many constructive things you can do. Even investigating different hobbies or activities will keep your mind active and engaged.

4. Make friends.
If others are in the same situation, they need some help too, although they usually won't admit it. It's more fun, and safer, to go places in a group. People can be fascinating if you treat them with respect and let them talk. Everybody has a story to tell, and you can learn something valuable from every person you meet. Be careful where you go and what you do, but there are amazing things to see if you ask around.

5. Ask someone to send you something from home.
Psychologists call them "transitional objects." They don't need to be big, elaborate or expensive. Some traveling salesmen take a pair of house slippers with them on the road to wear in motel rooms. It may be framed photos of your family. Or it may be something like a favorite paperweight, little statue or figurine, or personal knickknack from your room or house. It might even be a stone from your yard. This connection brings a little bit of home with you wherever you go. Make sure it's small enough to be portable. This may sound silly, but it works.

One final word. Whether you're a freshman at college or a newly shipped out military person, don't let any "veteran" fool you. They get homesick too, despite their bravado. They just won't admit it because they're trying to act tough, but that's all it is--acting. Anybody who doesn't miss their family and home has something wrong with them.

So don't be embarrassed or ashamed. You can overcome your homesickness as you get acclimated and into a routine in the new place. If you keep busy, the time will pass faster, and before you know it, it'll be time to go home!

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