I wrote an article for Sixty and Me on loneliness, which, for some reason, gathered a number of comments. The consensus – you can be alone but not lonely.
From Valerie, “I love to be alone and I’m getting tired of constantly hearing about socializing as if liking solitude is a fatal flaw!”
Jen added, “I am happier in my own company, doing my own thing. I read that people live longer if married but that is the last thing I want & I’d rather be happy & die young. I am tired of ads which promote ‘spending time with family,’ ‘fun for all the family’, etc. Go away!”
Janne concluded, “I too wish that there were articles taking this into account. Many people enjoy their own company and even more so as they age. We are continually presented with information that says we shouldn’t be doing this, that we need to be socially interactive – if you have happily been this way all of your life, I see no need to change!”
OK, I get it. Because I am very much like these women. Being a speaker and performer, I know when to be on, but I also cherish the alone time. That is why I think I did so much better adjusting to pandemic life than my wife. Turns out, this topic is not a new one.
Sharon Melin, MA, an Outpatient Therapist, notes that “We sometimes associate ‘being alone’ with ‘being lonely’, and it is important to realize that there is a difference. Being “alone” is a physical state where you are physically by yourself. Being ‘lonely’ is an emotional state where you are feeling alone or disconnected from others – even when they’re right next to you.”
I recently conducted a focus group with activity professionals in assisted living. One person, who heads activities for a well-to-do organization, who conducts many activities, and has many bells and whistles solutions to choose from, relayed that a recent survey of residents reported that the number one issue among those living there was feeling alone. That in a vibrant senior living community.
Most articles that address this topic are quick to point to solutions to “cure” you of your loneliness. Fill your house with music, take walks, practice gratitude, get a hobby. All fine things.
However, they may be missing the point.
Sure, chronic loneliness that leads to depression that leads to physical ailments due to stress need to be addressed. However, as noted above, some people are just fine to be alone.
There are actually studies on how to be alone in a healthy way. Actually, being alone is a great opportunity to get to know yourself.
Experts recommend some of the following.
I love this one because I am a solo musician. I have spent countless hours in my studio recording or in my garage rehearsing. It is therapeutic, not to mention all the side benefits that music provides for your mind and emotional state. You need never be bored because you are by yourself.
I am perfectly content going somewhere for a bite to eat or going to a movie all by myself. Honestly, I can observe more, learn more, and enjoy the solitude of a crowded place.
Sometimes too much alone time causes over-thinking. In the solitude, buried emotions, memories, or problems can surface. It’s OK to be curious about these emotions and to explore them. For me though, the thoughts never seem to be good ones.
So I have to keep having the “You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You” loop in my head. People call this rumination, which is different than introspection. It’s OK to spend time reflecting on your values or contemplating the bigger picture.
Yes, the gurus suggest meditation and yoga. But here’s the thing. Don’t be a couch potato. Stay moving. If that means exercise, fine. If that means knitting, fine. Just stay active in the solitude. Scrolling on social media or watching television may feel restorative after a stressful day at work or it may distract you from more fulfilling pursuits.
You may not be by nature a solitary person. However, even the most social people should heed the warnings when it’s time to withdraw a bit. If the outside world starts to overstimulate you – too many people, activities, or demands – recognize the signals.
Maybe you’re anxious. Maybe a panic attack is imminent. Your body will send predictable signals indicating you need some time alone. It is equally important to know when it’s time to leave solitude and seek the company of others. It’s possible to be alone for too long.
P.S. Oh yeah, if you want to be able to interact with others even when at home, consider online live courses or entertainment options like my own Sage Stream.
Do you feel it’s good for you to be among others – or do you prefer to be by yourself most of the time? What do you do when in solitude? What does alone time give you?
Hearing loss tends to push a person into its form of isolation. I’ve grown used to living in a silent world. Although I have hearing aids for both ears…they are not the full solution. They help but do not solve. People are extremely rude and impatient with me since I tend to have to ask them to repeat their last sentence. I can understand everything until they get to their last phrase when their voice trails off. Therefore…I was forced into a life of isolation that I did not chose. Hearing loss is so common with aging that I’m surprised its never mentioned in any article about living alone or loneliness. It is something you could never understand w/o experiencing it first hand.
I too have trouble hearing and I feel so bad having to ask “What did they say”.
I feel for you. I have a friend who will lean the right side of her face towards me if I am speaking & she is having trouble hearing me. Please, please, don’t be hesitant to speak up or indicate that you are having trouble hearing someone while they are speaking.
Hearing loss is a hidden disability.
I shudder to think of the future hearing-problems that will arise due to people listening to very loud music thru headphones/ear buds from iPhones etc.
Having volunteered for the Deaf Association here in Melbourne many years ago, I am certain that there are groups/clubs (online if necessary) that you can reach out to/join for support & friendship. 🙂🇦🇺
I appreciate and LOVE my own company. And I do enjoy meeting out with friends. It’s all abt balance.
I do enjoy my social time, but I’m also happy to be living alone. I like the quiet, and rarely even find that I want to put music on. I do watch movies in the evening occasionally, but mostly read. I work outdoors for a few hours each day on my property and just enjoy relaxing outdoors as well.
I’m happy to see this finally talked about. I, too, am perfectly happy being alone. I often feel pressure to find someone, a mate, a room mate, etc. But the thought of having to live with someone else after all these years is anxiety inducing. I spend my time doing what I enjoy, gardening, working on my house, spending time with my pets, and I can make the most of my own time. I wish society would understand that it’s ok to be alone.
I love this article. I’m quite happy being alone. I’ve always thought that advice to get out, socialize, that it’s healthier and will make me live longer was just wrong in my situation. I feel exhausted after going to social events and get sick with things like cold sores, the flu, etc. But when I stay home, I am more peaceful, steady-state. People never make me feel better if I do feel down from circumstances usually from finances. Talking about my problems doesn’t take any burden off my shoulders. I usually only pretend to feel better to let anyone trying to help me to get them to go away. I’m sure it’s due to my introversion which I only discovered when I was 60, but I think I wasted a lot of my life trying to do what others said I should. It’s good to know I’m not the only one that values being alone.
All I can say is, To each his own! Everyone is different —