Thursday, April 13, 2017

Alone but not Lonely - The Benefits of Solitude

It's daunting being seen alone sometimes. All eyes (seemingly) on you and convinced your momentary aloneness might be confused with being an involuntary loner with no friends. 

Most of us have experienced that awkward moment waiting for a friend or in unfamiliar company where we take out our phones and stare at them unendingly. Anything but simply sitting there, embracing the fact that for a moment, we are alone. 

Solo reader at the National Gallery of Victoria.

It’s strange to consider that we have created a world where our expected natural state is to be with others rather than be content with simply ourselves as company. We fear judgement from outsiders, unable to bear the thought that we may be pitied or misconstrued as alone, and therefore lonely. 

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introversion refers to a widespread culture of personality in which an extroverted, more outgoing ideal dominates over introverted states. 

The proliferation of social media into everyday life has made this expectation for sociality even higher. 

The constant exposure to posts and photos showing others having fun with their extended friendship groups puts stress on people to compete socially to feel normal. Even though its argued that regardless of friend counts on social media most people have around four friends they can truly rely on. 

Learning how to be alone is an effective method for living in an increasingly overstimulated world. An opportunity for solace in a culture addicted to the constant updates of friends, acquaintances and people you’ve never met, taking your time but also your social energy. 

Research in BBC's article "How being alone may be the key to rest" proposes that being alone is vital to rest as what we really want when we rest is respite from other people.

To add, Anthony Storr, author of Solitude writes that "Being alone every so often could be the antidote to the sensory overload we face in current times". He adds that “Learning, thinking, innovation and maintaining contact with ones inner world are all facilitated by solitude”. 

There is a therapeutic element to being alone. This may be why solitary activities such as flotation tanks, mediation and mindfulness are becoming increasingly popular. Could simply being alone help mental health? 

Storr argues that being alone intensifies emotional experience as well as helps you notice and interact more with the external environment. It also allows you to focus on your inner thought processes and has positive effects on creativity, health and pleasure. 

Man enjoying his own company at a park.
In Sara Maitland’s How to be Alone she lists the joys of solitude as leading to a deeper consciousness to oneself, a deeper attunement to nature, a deeper relationship with the transcendental, increased creativity, and an increased sense of freedom. 

For a lot of my life I didn't know how to be alone. It felt conspicuous and awkward eating alone, gong to cafes and even spending time at the park without somebody by my side.

However after solo travelling and making effort I've learnt how to counter these feelings of anxiety and become happy being by myself. People need solitude. It’s good for thinking, ideas, and a form of long-term mindfulness that helps people know who they are and what makes them feel fulfilled. 

Enjoy being alone, you'll be a better person for it.

Thank you to @Ja_Lu_St for the photography in this post.

Further reading: Feeling Lonely while Solo Travelling