“The only real teacher is not in a forest, or a hut or an ice cave in the Himalayas, it is within us.” Tiziano Terzani
Our society has long stigmatized solitude, we equate solitude with loneliness.
We forget that one can actually be surrounded by people but still feel lonely, and one can be alone without feeling lonely.
As an individual who loves spending time alone, I am often on the receiving end of questions like, is everything ok? Don’t you ever get lonely? Why do you like spending so much time alone?
You will have well-meaning friends and relatives suggesting that you should get out more often, or start a family, or even join whatever group they feel will save you from your solitary life.
It is hard for people to believe that a healthy human being can willingly choose to spend a lot of time alone.
Of course, there are people living a solitary life because life circumstances such as the death of loved ones, old age, illnesses have forced them to;
But this is where the difference between solitude and loneliness lies:
Solitude is a state of being alone without being lonely.
I come from a big family and a culture that believes that a house full of people is always better. I do not remember if there was ever a time I was alone at home when I was still living with my parents. It was quite common for relatives to visit and stay with us for a few days or even months.
My first experience of living alone was when I went to study in the UK. No friends nearby. No family nearby. Just me and my ambition in a new country. I had mixed feelings; I missed my family and friends, but I also enjoyed being alone tremendously.
Solitude became my new norm, and I thrived in it. At first, I thought something was wrong with me because I enjoyed spending a lot of time alone, and this was something that was considered not normal in my culture. But with time, I learnt that the ability to spend time alone and enjoy your own company is actually a strength and not a weakness. It is not something that you need to justify or fix. It is something that we all need once in a while.
When I think about it, this is one of the best gifts I ever gave myself. With no one nearby to run to with my problems, I had to figure out a lot of stuff by myself. I learnt a new way of living. I got to know myself more. I became much more self-reliant and confident.
Increasingly, research is showing that approaching solitude as something that when pursued by choice can prove to have many psychological and health benefits, which include:
Without the influence of others, you learn to make decisions on your own, which sometimes can end up being wrong decisions, but the good thing is you quickly learn from these mistakes.
You begin to trust yourself; when you solve your problems on your own, your fear of making big life decisions lessens. You learn that mistakes are just part of life, and you are more than capable to fix them.
You become more self-reliant
When you have friends and family always around; you become reliant on them for emotional support. Life challenges like job loss, heartbreak etc. are easier to deal with when you have a support group, but when you are alone, you will have to learn to soothe yourself. You will have to encourage yourself when discouraged. With time, you become stronger and self- reliant.
You learn to silence the inner critic and develop a healthy inner monologue
The more time you spend alone in silence, the clearer your inner voices will become to you. You will be able to tell the difference between the inner critic who is never satisfied and your true inner voice that is always there to guide you when you feel lost.
You get to know yourself better
Our human need to belong can sometimes lead to groupthink and groupish behavior. We do not want to rock the boat. We want to be loyal. And so, we do what we think is acceptable. Whatever our inner voice tries telling us, we brush it off because we want to be loyal.
But when you are alone, you do not have to please anyone. You do not have a group to try to fit into. You just have to listen to your true voice and follow its guidance. And that is your true self.
Improved creativity and productivity
Having people around all the time can distract you from the things that are important to you. Well-planned alone time gives you space to remember the things that matter to you and work on them. And the good thing is that if there is nothing to do, you can just enjoy the silence; with enough room for imagination, you become familiar with your creative expression and take action!
Embrace solitude and use it to your advantage
Because our society has long stigmatized solitude, we work so hard to avoid being alone. We stay in dead relationships. We hang out with people we dislike. We force ourselves to engage in activities that are not important to us, just so we can say we are not alone.
And when we are alone, we are either on our phones, or watching TV, or distracting ourselves whichever way possible, because silence and solitude are uncomfortable for many of us.
If you are to have a happy and meaningful life, you have to know what you want. You have to know who you are as an individual, not as a group. And no friend, family member, or colleague can do that for you. You have to do that for yourself.
So, make it a priority to create some alone time for yourself!
Thank you for reading!