Being alone versus lonely are two distinct phenomena. While loneliness is associated with a multitude of health risks, both physical and psychological, spending time with oneself is not detrimental and can even be conducive to our health. Psychologist, Guy Winch, points out that loneliness is not necessarily a function of how many friends you have but the “subjective quality of your relationships.” Whether you feel affinity for the people in your life is more important than the width of your social network. If you feel emotionally connected with your family and friends, you are less likely to experience loneliness.
However, this does not imply that you need to be around people most of the time in order to thrive. In The New York Times , writer Micaela Marini Higgs, lists a number of benefits of solitude. Besides promoting creativity and enhancing our relationships, time to ourselves also aids in emotional regulation. Psychologist Thuy-vy Nguyen, clarifies that desiring solitude is not necessarily a reflection of your extroversion or introversion. Even extroverts may crave for some solo time to recharge themselves. Further, as people engage in hobbies when they are alone, they may discover hitherto unknown facets of themselves.
Only when you extricate yourself from the humming buzz of society, do you get a chance to see how you are influenced by sociocultural forces, argues writer Brent Crane in The Atlantic . Time spent alone lends itself to self-exploration and is essential to identity formation. However, developmental psychologist Kenneth Rubin, provides some caveats to the benefits of solitude. He asserts that our separation from others has to be voluntary and not imposed on us. Second, we should be able to regulate our emotions “effectively” when we are alone. If we desire company, we should be able to join others. Lastly, solitude is healthy only if we are able to sustain pro-social relationships with others.
MIT professor and social scientist, Sherry Turkle, bemoans that modern humans are not really reaping the blessings of solitude because none of us is truly alone even when we are away from others. Continual pings from our devices keep us tethered to our networks. As a result, people have less and less uninterrupted time for self-reflection, which is essential for cultivating and maintaining an autonomous identity. While 24/7 connectivity is desirable at times, it comes with costs that we need to recognise. We need to claim our downtime by turning off our devices for some time, preferably every day. And, if you feel at a loss when your phone is switched off, that is a sure sign that you need to disengage from it more regularly.
Renowned educationist J. Krishnamurti exhorts students to spend time by themselves to plumb their inner depths. He cautions that “you cannot find out about yourself if you are always talking, going about with your friends with half a dozen people.” Whether you take a solitary walk, listen to music in your room or sit quietly on a park bench, cherish the time you spend with yourself.
The writer is Director, PRAYATNA. Email: arunasankara@gmail