The Benefits of Solitude
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Americans are preoccupied with being alone, especially as we age.
We are taught there are few things worse than living out our senior years without companionship. Maybe that’s why obituaries typically note the deceased “was surrounded by family and friends.”
The benefits of solitude are rarely discussed.
Loneliness in perspective
Our fear of loneliness – often stoked by the media – can lead to making bad choices. One study found the fear of a lack of companionship as we age caused respondents to make compromises when selecting a marriage partner, perhaps lowering the quality of their lives.
Another study found a “sizeable gap” between the concerns about old age expressed by young and middle-aged adults and the actual experience of older Americans.
I don’t mean to imply loneliness isn’t an issue. About one in six adults 65 and older reported feeling lonely.
The benefits of being alone
I love my time alone, when I can think, write, plan and reflect. My wife loves her time alone when she’s in her studio, crafting a new painting. We think it makes our time together more special.
I can relate to this quote from Nikola Tesla, the famed inventor, who never married, “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."
Conversely, there’s evidence being surrounded by others is a distraction, preventing us from accomplishing our goals.
Here’s another benefit of solitude (and being an introvert). You’re in complete control of your environment, unlike extroverts who need the stimulation of frequent interaction.
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Amy Morin, an author and “mental strength trainer,” believes being alone makes you more compassionate, increases empathy, builds mental strength, leads to greater introspection and gives you an opportunity to think about, “your goals, your progress and changes you want to make in your life.”
In an article in The Atlantic, Brent Crane correctly observed, “Humans have long stigmatized solitude. It has been considered an inconvenience, something to avoid, a punishment, a realm of loners.” Maybe that’s why some fear being alone so much they would opt for electric shocks rather than focus on their own thoughts.
Yet, those of us who meditate can relate to the feeling of calm that overcomes us during our time when we focus only on our breathing. For me, it was transformational. I experienced an immediate sense of relaxation, like an enormous burden had been lifted from my shoulders for those brief moments.
I’m sure there’s a happy balance between being alone and being in the company of others. For me, I prefer to err on the side of solitude.