Solitude: Unpopular, but enlightening

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A couple of years ago when no one had time to go with me I decided to go shopping by myself, an up to then dreaded idea. What if everyone would be staring at me, thinking ‘Who is that insane person walking down the streets all by herself, doesn’t she have any friends?’ I felt uncomfortable, in a rush to be with people again, perhaps even a bit ashamed. But after a while something happened. I started to realize that I was definitely not the only one by myself. And, even more so, no one was looking at me like I was an odd appearance. Strolling through the city center, I actually started to like my lonely adventure. I could do exactly what I want, eat what I want, buy what I want and no one would judge me. It felt liberating. I have been doing a lot of things alone since that shopping trip, and to be honest, most of the times I like those peaceful moments more than I would like a hectic night out with friends.

However, plenty of people would disagree with me. The fear of being alone is getting out of hand. Did you know that in the US, 66 per cent of all adults suffer from nomophobia? This concerns the fear of not having a mobile phone on you and thus being unreachable. This phenomenon is noticeable every day in the most mundane places. Think of commuting to work or university, strolling through a park, grabbing lunch. What do you see? That’s right, people glued to their phones. This phenomenon properly illustrates people’s irrational need to be in constant contact with one another, and more fundamentally, people’s fear of feeling completely and utterly alone.

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In this column I will take a look at burning questions such as: Why are we all so immensely obsessed with sharing every experience? It seems as if we have lost the capability to be happy on one’s own, without interference of other human beings. Our need to be recognized in our existence with everything we do seems more pervasive than ever. Why do we need people’s constant acknowledgment? Why do we feel as if the void within us can only be filled by another person’s recognition? I am here to take this stress off of you. Namely, I think we do not need others at all to feel complete and I will tell you why.

Going on my solitary journey for answers I came across relationship expert Susan Winter, who explains that the reason people feel a resistance against being alone comes from outer identification. Namely, films, music and books keep telling us that we are incomplete if we’re alone. It gives us the feeling that only the presence of someone else can help us fill the void we feel inside to make us whole. However, in reality, this void is merely felt because we are not aligned with ourselves. The loneliness that we feel thus does not come from not being with other, but from not being united with ourselves.

Related to our fear of being alone is the phenomenon of the Spotlight Effect. A research by Thomas Gilovich illustrated that people tend to think that others are constantly looking at them and observing what they are doing. However, in reality, most people are actually too focused on themselves instead of paying attention to what the rest of the world is doing. So the argument that people have against going places alone because others would perceive them as weird or friendless, is easily refuted. Most people will not even notice you. So just do that thing you have always wanted to do but were afraid to do alone! See that movie, visit that pub, shop at that store!86634-82493

The importance of these me-times is tremendous. Counselor Suzanne Degges-White’s vision is striking when she says that: “Over the long haul, togetherness endures where separateness can exist.” This implies that it is necessary to know who you are and to feel united with yourself in order to maintain healthy relationships with others. It is important to explore your own interests in solitude and enjoy the sense of separateness while still being connected. Even more, research has shown that relationships in which individuals have the room to do this tend to last longer and partners experience enhanced satisfaction. In this sense, enjoying solitude leads to a richer relationship with others.

Writer Hara Estroff Marano also hits the nail on the head when she says that solitude, the state of being alone without being lonely, can lead to more self-awareness. “Solitude is refreshing, an opportunity to renew ourselves” Solitude enables us to look at the world with a new perspective.

I realize that in a world where time never stands still, it might be hard to find some moments alone. Nonetheless, I hope I have motivated you to take on some me-time and do what human kind does best: enjoy yourself. I will wrap up with a couple of ideas that can get you started in order to make you be the best company for you.

  1. Disconnect: Turn off your devices for a while, or at least their obtrusive sounds. You will get a lot more done without these distractions, which will give you more time to unwind by yourself.
  2. Meditate: Another great way to learn how to enjoy your own company is by meditation. It will help you reveal your inner desires and you will get to know yourself better. This does not have to be a long session either, 10 minutes in absolute zen-mode will already do the trick.
  3. Use every break you can get in between your hectic schedules just for yourself. Get out of the office, room or library and get some lunch by yourself, sit on a park bench and completely relax. Clearing your head like this will actually make you more productive afterwards as well, it’s a win-win!

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