When you are feeling overwhelmed and everything just seems to be too much to handle, you feel tired and fragile and you need to take a moment to gather your thoughts and come back to some kind of equilibrium.   This moment of self- reflection helps to relax you and makes you feel less pressured.   It is at this very moment that you are experiencing the joy and benefits of solitude.

Everything we experience in our present- day world is fast paced.  With the help of modern technology, it is expected that everything you need to do will be done perfectly and quickly.  The pressures can be enormous.  Not only during working time, but party time also can be pressured like playing with friends and competitors at a jackpot casino. It is important to have time to relax and unwind from these pressures in order to replenish our minds and bodies.  It is important to make time for some solitude, being alone with yourself.

Solitude involves being alone with yourself, enjoying your own space and company and using the time to dig deeply into yourself and your thoughts. When you are overwhelmed with work or even social activities it is easy to over-react to the smallest irritations or provocations.  It is likely that you will react in an off hand or irrational way because you are stressed out. You need time to come back to a balanced state.

There are some types of work and professions that necessitate solitude.  Solitude can be important for creativity and productivity.   Solitude is necessary to get those creative juices flowing. Professional writers or even journal writing requires solitude.  Solitude allows us to get in touch with our deeper selves and is necessary for our mental and emotional wellbeing. We can all benefit from some solitude.

So What is the difference between solitude and loneliness?

There is some confusion between these two states.   Both represent time being spent alone. However, they are very different in the way in which they are experienced, in terms of joy and pain.   Loneliness is very unpleasant and is experienced as something negative, feeling isolated and lacking human interaction.   The opposite is true for solitude, where the experience is anything but unpleasant, it is more of a relief.

In her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt says “The lonely man finds himself surrounded by others with whom he cannot establish contact or to whose hostility he is exposed. The solitary man, on the contrary, is alone and therefore ‘can be together with himself’. In solitude, on the contrary, I am ‘by myself’, together with myself, and therefore two in one, whereas in loneliness I am actually one, deserted by all others.  All thinking, strictly speaking, is done in solitude and is a dialogue of thought.”

Your attitude is a crucial element when you are alone.  How you choose to respond to the experience.  Keith Harrell in his book, Attitude is Everything, he argues that “Even though your attitude is your ‘most priceless possession’, you have to develop it by taking responsibility and monitoring your internal dialogue to stay positive even in the most challenging times.”

Attitude is the distinguishing factor between solitude and loneliness. How you view and respond to your environment.

For instance, if you are suddenly left alone at home on your own, not expecting to see anyone for the entire weekend.  You have two choices open to you.  You can begin to feel sad wishing that you had someone to share the time with. You will likely begin to feel lonely. Your other choice is to embrace your aloneness, to feel happy that you have some time to invest in yourself, to enjoy the solitude.  It is truly important that you are able to enjoy your alone time. In this way you will also really appreciate and enjoy times with others.

Feeling lonely leads to pain and sadness.  Solitude does not

According to the German-American philosopher Paul Tillich, “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

Feeling lonely is a negative experience and can lead to feeling depressed.  People who are lonely feel isolated and cut off from others and suffer from a lack of companionship. There is often the feeling that the world is going on without us, we are missing out with no one to share life with. However, it is possible to feel lonely even when you are in company.

Sometimes you can be at a party or function and feel somehow that you can’t connect with anyone.  You don’t quite fit in.  It is at this point that you may begin to have negative thoughts.  “I’m different so they don’t like me.” or “They all know each other so that’s why they are ignoring me”.   These negative thoughts are setting you on the path to feelings of loneliness and depression.

It can be hard in these circumstances not to fall into the trap of negative thoughts but it behooves you to change these thoughts to positive ones; to embrace your aloneness, to revel in it.

Feeling lonely is depressing.  Embracing solitude is not

Solitude is a state in which we feel happy. We are enjoying the alone time we have with ourselves. It is a time when we are able to think deeply about who we are and what we want from life, from our families and friends.   In solitude we are able to come to know ourselves better, to gain confidence and to become stronger in who we are.

Loneliness produces the opposite.  We are unhappy, insecure and are looking to others to fill the empty space.   Many people are under the impression that loneliness is equal to being single but this is not the case.  A single person is alone but is not lonely.

Studies have found that single people are often more satisfied, self-sufficient and happy than those in partnerships.  Many people choose to stay single and enjoy being alone.  They are often referred to as “loners”. It could well be that these “loners” are enjoying their solitude and really embracing their alone time.  Of course, some of these singles may have become “loners” as a result of being hurt by others and have chosen solitude.

On the other hand, some people go from one relationship to the next in order not to be alone. Their need for companionship is so great that they cannot allow themselves to be single for any length of time.  Unfortunately, these people have not experienced the joy of solitude and cannot gain from the benefits of being alone.

The psychologist, Neal Burton says that “loneliness is part and parcel of the human condition and unless a person is resolved, it will always resurface.”    Those who feel unhappy and empty when alone will always be fearful of loneliness.  A change of attitude towards aloneness is needed. They need to change their attitude towards solitude.

Gaining self-awareness through solitude

We gain self-awareness in our solitude.  We learn new things about ourselves and it gives a feeling of rejuvenation.  We are able to see things clearly and gain insight.  Solitude can expand your horizon, giving you new ways of thinking and seeing the world.  Being with yourself allows for creativity.   “My imagination functions better when I don’t have to speak to people”. Says writer, Patricia Highsmith.

In a state of loneliness, you feel rejected and left out.  You are anxiously looking for someone outside to fill the void you feel.   Fortunately, this is all in your head. It comes down to attitude. Changing the way in which you think about being alone will change your life. When you begin to look forward to your alone time, to revel in your solitude, you will be far happier. Alone time will be a positive, rather than a negative experience.

Solitude is a choice

You can choose solitude as a time to grow and expand. No one really chooses to be lonely. It is imposed on you and makes you feel depleted.   Sometimes company cannot make you feel less lonely.  In this situation you are often disconnected from yourself.  It is time to have a change of attitude.  You can learn to enjoy solitude. Spend some time learning to be with yourself.  It will bring joy into your life. Loneliness only brings unhappiness.

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