It’s Okay to Be Alone

“I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not defined by another person.” ~ Oscar Wilde

There have been timeless arguments, open-ended debates, and casual conversations about relationships, being connected, and being alone. I am sure compelling cases for each have been and can be made. Yet I believe most would agree that the most important relationship we have in our lives is with ourselves, as challenging as this relationship is.

In June, I shared a post about the importance of our being connected, from a traditional, social perspective. On the flip side, there is abundant research that suggests blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life – that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we need to spend time away from them. When we can shift our expectations with ourselves and others to opportunities for discovery, we open ourselves to new paths and unchartered territory.

As we become more chronologically gifted, and open to finding what truly makes us feel deeply and strongly, we can then make even more meaningful choices about if and with whom we want to share ourselves and create connections. It is the prospect of losing yourself and finding your way back that makes the experience that much better (yet, uncomfortable for some). The end outcome with creating space and allowing time alone, is to give yourself a chance to learn more about yourself.

In a recent study, Eric Klineberg, a sociologist at New York University claimed, “There is so much cultural anxiety about isolation that we often fail to appreciate the benefits of solitude.” Whether it is for a short period of time of an extended duration, why not consider “the benefits?” Here are three ways to explore:

  • Focus some time on your thoughts (because thoughts do create your reality). What are your most powerful thoughts? Where are you putting your attention? Take time alone to become aware of your thoughts. Monitor them, rewrite them, and spend time each day changing negative thought patterns into what you truly believe and want. For those familiar with neuroplasticity, this is how new brain pathways are created.
  • Schedule solitude. Proactively create time on your calendar to spend time with yourself.Ā If you can make time for all the little extras you fit in your day, like stopping at Starbucks, you can schedule time for solitude. It doesn’t have to be gobs of time, just long enough to meditate, focus, relax, produce and/or think deeply is better than no time.
  • Like a vitamin – once per day. Check your online communication once each day. This means one stop to your inbox, Facebook and reader. This rule not only allows you to enjoy more quiet time during your work, it forces you to actually meet people when you are feeling social.

46 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Be Alone

  1. I am so glad to read that my thoughts have been expressed here by you, Eric! I have always enjoyed my solitude and it has been very rewarding and fulfilling. My most profound thoughts come to me when I talk to myself and my best poems have been written during those hours that I spend with myself.

    Solitude is the best time for dreams, for flying away with your fantasy and getting transported to another world… introspect and feel that inner peace!

    Thank you Eric for sharing it.

    • Solitude is a time for so manythings, Balroop, including dreaming. It’s a restorative space and for those open to introspection, often an appreciated respite. I can almost feel the inner peace it enables for you.

  2. So good to realize that being alone does not (necessarily) that you are being lonely…. and so smart to bring social media in the picture, when did you remember last seeing someone sitting alone without staring at the screen of their phone….

    • Thanks for catching the intentional ‘focus’ for the images that accompanied the post, Chris. The fact that some of the photos caught you attention in the intended vein, brings a smile to my face.

  3. Without solitude, we lose the propensity for introspection, that examination of self that Socrates placed at the center of a life well-lived. Solitude enables us to explore our own depths so that we can then come together with other people confident of who we are and not just as another identical member of the herd. It’s no accident that solitude was always an essential part of being a hermit, yogi or prophet.

    • To intentionally experience solitude helps us to appreciate the likes of Merton and others who have illuminated paths for us. With or without a Socratic frame, we can still explore and appreciate the value in introspection. But we do need to create the space within which we can comfortably probe and then share. You succinctly yet eloquently invite a compelling case for solitude. Thanks, Malcolm.

  4. I love the time I spend alone – never bored, never lonely…if we are enough for ourselves then others we like who share our space become a superb bonus…must be a thing of aging, I’ve come to pencil in a day to myself every time I’ve had a busy day of socialising šŸ˜€

    • I believe many of us appreciate and love both. And it’s the flexibility that we have to choose when one is more meaningful for us versus the other. Glad to learn that you have and enjoy both, Noony.

  5. Solitude. The word itself makes me feel relaxed and I fully agree that it allows us to connect more with truer/stronger feelings we have…which as you say will create more meaningful decisions and connections in life. With these affirmations we give ourselves, we can then share ourselves more fully, for what brings even greater happiness is when we can share it with others. Great post Eric.

    • It is a calming word, Randall. I sense that we sometimes overlook the ease with which we can gift ourselves with such “affirmations” and in doing so, add to our personal reserves – which can then be tapped to fuel others. And as I type, I become aware of a ‘solitude cycle’ within which I envision the relaxation you reference. And it’s a nice feeling. Appreciate, again, your prompting another perspective.

  6. It wasn’t always like this, but I enjoy any solitude I can get. I love my family and friends, but it takes a lot of psychic energy for me to be around others.

  7. Nice post Eric. If you can do #3 more power to you! I love solitude and agree that it’s the key to living a connected, meaningful life. Unfortunately, the reaching out social part is harder for me. Solitude I can do, sometimes too well. I’ll take your line about working our way back to self as my inspiration. thanks,

    • I’ll admit I struggle with #3. I, too, value my quiet and private time, Brad. I believe you know well that all of the parts are not always easy. Acknowledging baby steps and progress in the direction that you intend/desire is how and where you get to credit yourself. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Great post. As someone who’s been told by others that ‘you can’t be alone’ a la Jerry Maguire, I have in recent years made an attempt to tune into myself more and well, of course prove these folks wrong in the process šŸ™‚ But seriously I agree with what you have written here. A good balance of both seems like the best way to go. I’ve found that time alone is very enjoyable and relaxing. But I also very much value the companionship of others, whether it be family, friends, or in a romantic relationship. My ‘thing’ these days is to be able to be content and fulfilled on my own, so that I do not need others to fill any void in my life. Instead, that those relationships become more healthy and fulfilling in that they are no longer needy relationships. Anyway I’m rambling, thanks for another good reminder here, Eric.

    • Good to learn that you choose to tune into yourself more, Brian. Several words that you used I find quite poignant – balance, companionship, relationship, and fulfilled – each play well into both the solitude ‘side’ and the active, visible ‘side.’ I like when you “ramble.” I so don’t see it as such. It frequently reminds me to be grateful and stimulates my smile muscles. šŸ™‚ Thanks, my friend, for your thoughts.

  9. A healthy reminder of the importance to have balance in our lives. We need to be our own friends, too. And with the pressures inherent in many of our goals – including family, work, and pleasure – this generally means work – work to create time for ourselves, because we enjoy it. I certainly do (and that is not a bad thing!) 5 star post, as usual. Thanks, Eric!

    • Love your word choice “balance.” If we don’t appreciate and value ourselves, why would others? And to your point, it is work – yet (IMO) the return is well worth the effort/investment. Appreciate your acknowledging the post as a healthy reminder, Dominic. Thank you!

  10. I have never been bothered by being alone. Thanks to my parents, I know how to find interesting outlets to entertain my mind. I know how to entertain myself – all it takes is a little imagination.

    • It may be a unique chromosome that some of us possess. šŸ™‚ I have always been comfortable being alone and in solitude. The contemplative possibilities in that peaceful space are amazing – even better than the thoughts and choices that I make have and make in the shower. Thanks for your uplifting comment.

  11. I agree with you and your post! To me, it’s very important to be alone sometimes.
    People can understand better their own needs and above all themselves (fears, dreams, …). I noticed that lots of people prefer staying more with people they don’t like particularly than alone.

    • Isn’t it crazy that people choose to spend time with others for whom they don’t really care? We are a unique species, aren’t we? Always good to have you comment and contribute to the ‘conversation’ Andrea. Thank you!

  12. Pingback: Stealing Time | Eric Tonningsen's "Awakening to Awareness"

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