If someone ever ask me which quote or saying would describe my ideal state of being, or one that would characterize my personality completely, I would answer with this beautiful quote from Eugène Delacroix, “Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul. Seek solitude.”
As you may have guessed by now, I am rather an introvert type. I’ve never particularly desired to be in the limelight and I’ve never been a fun of socializing too. Big gatherings, large parties or any other bulky meetings have never attracted me much. Although I socialize sometimes, especially due to my commitment to work, I participate in various types of meetings and conferences. Though, I still prefer rather narrow groups of friends or get-togethers, as my solitary time is sacred!
Alone, I never get bored, nor do I feel lonely. However, I do understand and respect those who can’t live without mingling with others. The fact that you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you want to be alone all the time. Even the most introverted people need networks and social connections. And the other way around, extroverts too need time alone, to recharge batteries and put their thoughts together.
But not always and not everyone has the same opinion or approach to spending time alone as I do. For quite some time now, solitude has had a rather poor reputation among people, especially in recent years, when the tendency to constantly connect with others is growing. Many people wrongly think that being alone is bad and not trendy. Therefore, they often wrongly reason that if they repetitively show their popularity on social networks, through amount of likes get from others and the numbers of group photos they’re part of the standard-good people. Otherwise, you’re a freak, so people don’t like you. Or maybe you are sick, depressed, anxious or abnormal.
Social networks have forced us to think that a lack of friends or other people’s presence on social media means that we are weird or that no one cares about us. The problem is that people get carried away and start replacing real-life achievements with the virtual illusion of self-worth. Remember, you are not your likes, your followers or anything else of that matter. And your life isn’t any less interesting because it isn’t filled with continuous group pictures of ‘friends’ or hundreds of likes.
Thus, it has become completely wrong to believe that solitude is something we should not brag about, and avoid it, just because we associate it badly with lack of popularity or with (mental) health problems.
For me, solitude means clearing my mind. It allows me to think sharp again without being distracted by the outside world. Strengthening my creativity is another benefit; because you need to know that in a truly creative process, the only voice we need to hear is our own. It is this clarity of mind that allows me to open up to many possibilities.
We don’t often hear people say; “I’m spending the day with myself today,” do we? It has been established the fact that we must connect with others all the time. I understand that human beings are social individuals and contacts with others are in our nature. But there is also a lot of scientific evidence showing that alones is a condition we also need in order to function properly in life. Take, for example, this study I recently came across, while researching the topic of solitude, “Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-regulation”, which proves that valuing solitude doesn’t really hurt social life, in fact, it might add to it, because solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.
As we can see, being alone sometimes can have an extremely powerful and helpful effect on the life of people. And it should be introduced from early childhood, as we can observe from the research conducted at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which shows that while spending time alone we can gain many benefits. Scientists believe that kids spending time alone isn’t a bad thing. This does not make a person an “exile” or a “wretch”. On the contrary, it can improve children’s well-being even more or as much as spending time with friends and this should encourage parents to teach their children to spend more time alone.
Despite all the social stigma, bad reputation, and concerns about spending time alone, solitude (as detailed in this NYT article) is something we will any way always strive for and shouldn’t fight against. On the contrary, we should learn to be comfortable with ourselves, with our thoughts and feelings.
Of course, more and more, scientists are approaching solitude as something that, when pursued by choice, can reveal therapeutic. Let’s take, for example, Jack Fong, a sociologist at California State Polytechnic University who explains: “When people take moments to explore their solitude, not only will they be forced to confront who they are, they just might learn a little bit about how to outmanoeuvre some of the toxicity that surrounds them in a social setting.” Why not then, from time to time to remove ourselves from the social context of our lives in order to see and understand how we’ve been shaped by that context?.
Of course, Jack Fong wasn’t the only one who believed that solitude has a positive effect for everyone to practice. Thomas Merton, a writer and a therapist monk, who I deeply admire for his great work on the topic of solitude, writes: “When society is made up of men who know no interior solitude it can no longer be held together by love: and consequently it is held together by a violent and abusive authority. But when men are violently deprived of the solitude and freedom which are their due, the society in which they live becomes putrid; it festers with servility, resentment and hate.”
Moreover, psychotherapist Amy Morin says that the ability to tolerate alone time is linked to increased happiness, greater life satisfaction, and improved stress management. Overall, people who enjoy alone time, experience less depression. According to the Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, the article “Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone,” defines solitude as “disengagement from the immediate demands of other people – a state of reduced social inhibition and increased freedom to select one’s mental or physical activities.” and proves that thanks to it “Creativity strengthens through using the imagination, discovering self-transformation and developing new thought models.”
The confusion of being alone and being lonely
Perhaps at first glance it might not be perceived a fundamental difference between the two concepts. Mainly because they have one basic thing in common, both states are related to being solo. However, this is the only thing they share. Being alone and being lonely have completely different meanings. So, how can you differentiate them and what you can do to maintain a healthy balance?
Usually we picture solitude in our heads, as group of monks and crazy yogis, or people with social anxiety or severe depression, or else for change, eccentric millionaires obsessively practicing mindfulness in some isolated resorts, mostly to impress their Instagrammers. But, in reality, solitude is a state of being that is crucial for all of us if we want to live creative and authentic lives, to use our strengths, confront our weaknesses and challenge our habits. So, let’s not be afraid of being alone.
The difference between solitude and loneliness is quite significant. Solitude come from choice, while loneliness is definitely not our pick, it is beyond our control, it just comes unannounced, depend of the circumstances. People often wrongly think about being alone as a punishment, which in reality, it should instead be a reward – something we value and treasure. Perhaps the most accurate difference between solitude and loneliness was described by the Indian psychiatrist and educator, Sarvada Chandra Tiwari, in his article ‘Loneliness: A disease?’, who summed it up like this:
“Solitude and loneliness should not be explained in similar ways. Solitude is enjoyed by people and it leads to creativity, self-realization, and is totally an approach for developing once own individual space. It is often considered as an essential component for spirituality and self-growth but loneliness is a state of mind, a feeling of emptiness, separateness, and it often becomes a compulsion. When it develops dysfunction, is perceived as stressful combined with physical ageing, the situation turns out to be a toxic cocktail.”
We should, indeed, embrace the experience of being alone, as it can improve our health and our sense of peace and relax, and it can boost our relationships and positively change our outlook on life. For some, it may be the beginning of a new path to spirituality or a source of joy and happiness.
Have we lost our need for solitude?
Philip Koch, in his book ‘Solitude: A Philosophical Encounter’, suggests that negative responses to solitude are possibly caused by successful human evolution through togetherness with others. Therefore, many of us have an innate reaction to solitude as something unnatural. For this reason, many believe that the basic need in our life is the constant companionship of other people. Why are we suddenly afraid of being alone? Being in our own company is just as important to our health and well-being as being in the company of others.
We are very often influenced by the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours of people with whom we often spend time, both professionally and privately. As a result, we often start to think that others know better, more or have superior ideas for something. And, in some, more drastic cases, we may also be subject to some manipulation or suggestions from some people. Though, not always being in agreement with the opinions of others or having a similar view on a topic is bad for us and drastically makes us a dependent person. However, it is the time spent alone that allows us to see certain things more clearly. When we are alone, we have an abrupt freedom to think creatively and for ourselves – we clearly see our values, motives and goals. Therefore, we are more authentic in making choices and decisions. We know what we want and who we are. We also do not have this illusory need to compare ourselves with others.
Solitude sparks creativity and productivity
Being alone with your thoughts gives your brain a chance to wander, which can help you become more original, creative and more inventive. Solitude when self-imposed, intentional and fully appreciated can have a profound effect on productivity and creative thinking
“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.”– Rollo May
Solitude is very important for our professional life too, and although some people fear it, it is essential to our productivity. Moments of solitude and isolation are urgently needed, because they give us a space to concentrate, allow us to think things over, make our heads clearer, prioritize tasks, as well as energize and motivate to new assignments. It opens the path to deep focused work, the only way to thrive in the face of automation.
Can you imagine yourself constantly busy, or if something or someone regularly bothers you, and you don’t even have a moment to reflect? The effect of it is harmful; your thinking will be disturbed and your ability to create will be limited. What’s more, after a while, you can get caught by exhaustion and burnout.
“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion, free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone — that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.”Nikola Tesla
Practice solitude every day
Solitude may not come naturally to you, but you can improve it with daily practice. Start with a few minutes a day and gradually increase the time until you reach a satisfactory stage, which means, the one in which you feel fully relaxed and regenerated and your thoughts return to the right track; for some it may take half hour for others one hour or more. You will know intuitively when you begin to feel fully regenerated and calm.
Obviously, such practices can be difficult at first, due to many external factors, such as family members – always around and demanding attention, a phone that never stops ringing, or a job that never wants to wait. But there are also internal factors, such as self-discipline, willingness and determination that need to be worked on. Start by being offline often. Switch off your phone and disconnect from social media; this will allow you to reconnect with yourself instead. Create your own (mental) space to practice solitude; it can be a quiet room in the house, but preferably a natural environment, like: a park, garden, forest or beach; free from people and family members – a place where you can reconnect with yourself. The next step is to find something you may enjoy, like reading, dancing, sketching, meditating, bathing or walking, or in case of trouble to find your bit, go to ‘Creativity for beginners’, for inspiration. Start also, taking notes; write and note down anything you notice that grabs your attention or moves your thoughts and feelings. A note taking is a powerful tool for contacting with your inner self. And the last, freeing yourself from guilt. Taking time for ourselves alone will make us feel good, because it will make us better people.
“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”Albert Einstein
Solitude can revive us, help us achieve our goals and dreams, as well as help us understand those we love and the world we live in. Let’s start practicing solitude to see and appreciate all that we so often take for granted. Dedicating some time alone is an essential part of understanding yourself, using your creative side, building your mental strength and living a rich and full life.
Yes, it is very important to nourish our souls with beauty, nurture it every day with special moments and taking care of our health through an appropriate lifestyle and daily doses of inspiration and special time devoted only to yourself.