The Science Of Solitude: Why You'll Never Truly Be Alone

by John Haltiwanger

Loneliness is not a state of being, it's a mindset. Simply put, there is an enormous difference between being alone and being lonely.

The late, great Robin Williams once stated:

I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up alone. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.

We can be completely surrounded by people, but feel insignificant, isolated and unfulfilled in the process. An empty room may feel like the enemy, but it's nothing compared to a room full of people who make you feel empty.

Thus, being lonely has nothing to do with the number of people in your life. When it comes to relationships, quality over quantity must be the guiding rule.

At the same time, loneliness is often a consequence of a deep dissatisfaction with oneself. We feel lonely when we desire distractions from ourselves.

Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Yet, by recognizing what triggers these sentiments, we can begin to realize that it's a product of perspective.

Indeed, loneliness is not a reality, it's a choice.

If we change the way we look at the world, ourselves and being alone, we can begin to see that loneliness is as natural as it is impermanent.

Enjoying Solitude Is The Art Of Finding Yourself

Humans are fundamentally social beings. We aren't built to spend all of our time alone.

Studies have actually shown that living alone, and feeling lonely, may negatively impact a person's health and increase his or her risk of dying an early death.

Correspondingly, as the great American author John Steinbeck once wrote:

A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.

The first step toward fostering a happy soul is learning to love yourself. It's impossible to do this without embracing the joys of solitude.

Solitude allows a person to confront and meditate on his or her innermost feelings and thoughts. In the process, it also breeds self-awareness.

Spending time alone allows for the type of self-reflection that helps lead to a long and fulfilling life.

The mind can be a fantastic companion.

Without understanding ourselves, we can't grow as people. Likewise, as Hara E. Marano puts it for Psychology Today:

Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely. Solitude restores body and mind. Loneliness depletes them.

It's easy to get caught up in the monotony of the workweek. The noise of daily life can drown out our underlying emotions.

Solitude reminds us how important it is to find sources of enrichment beyond work and socializing. Learning to enjoy time spent alone helps provide a sense of equilibrium in life. Not to mention, it reveals to us the true value of the company of the others. You can't miss something if you're always surrounded by it.

Loneliness Is Inevitable But Not Infinite

There is nothing worse than feeling isolated.

Isolation, in the truest sense, is the state of being alone unwillingly, much like a castaway.

Yet, even people who are free to walk amongst society can feel isolated and, in turn, extremely lonely.

Loneliness is often a form of self-imposed social isolation, yet it tricks people into thinking it's a product of reality.

Studies have shown that even people who are married characterize themselves as lonely.

Similarly, in 2000, research was conducted at Ohio State in which undergraduate students were asked to identify as lonely or non-lonely.

The study revealed that the lonely students were hardly what one would characterize as "isolated," as they belonged to just as many clubs and had the same number of roommates as non-lonely students.

They also possessed just as much social capital -- measured by physical attractiveness, height/weight, socioeconomic status and scholastic success -- as non-lonely students.

Hence, the research went on to explain that their loneliness was primarily a consequence of their mindset. The researchers wrote that the lonely students were "more likely to attribute problems in social relationships to others."

Furthermore, they also described themselves as victims in relationships quite frequently.

Despite living under the same social conditions and having the same opportunities as others, lonely people seem to be of the opinion that the world is against them.

Indeed, loneliness is a liar, and it's self-perpetuating. As Robin Marantz Henig states for Psychology Today:

People grow lonely because of the gloomy stories they tell themselves. In a cruel twist, the loneliness itself can further distort their thinking, making them misread other people's good intentions, which in turn causes them to withdraw to protect themselves from further rejection .

This is not to say that people should feel guilty about feeling lonely. In fact, experts believe that as many as one in five Americans suffers from loneliness.

In other words, if the perils of loneliness currently plague you, take comfort in the fact that you're not alone.

It's not surprising that a lot of us feel lonely. We live in an increasingly impersonal society, in which a great deal of our interactions are digital. More people are also moving into cities, where a sense of community is more difficult to attain amongst massive populations.

A certain aspect of loneliness is to be expected in life, yet it doesn't have to be permanent.

It's important to remain cognizant of the fact that our perceptions of others are subjective. We all have inherent biases.

If we can learn to value solitude more often, it can help us become more aware of the way in which our personalities dictate our view of the world and others.

This will help us come to the important realization that this planet and its inhabitants are too dynamic to be defined by a single moment, thought or feeling. Concurrently, we might all feel just a little bit better, and less lonely.

The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once noted:

We are all connected. To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe, atomically.

Your connection to this planet, its people and the universe means that you are never truly alone.

Citations: What Robin Williams Taught This Woman About Being Alone (Huffington Post), What Is Solitude (Psychology Today), More Americans Moving to Cities Reversing the Suburban Exodus (The Wire), What brain mechanism causes loneliness (Machines Like Us), 5 Causes of Loneliness (Huffington Post), The Lethality of Loneliness (New Republic), Loneliness 5 things you may not know (CNN), Is Facebook Making Us Lonely (The Atlantic ), The Science of Loneliness (Psychology Today )