Choosing to Spend Time Alone
Instead of focusing on the cons of being lonely, consider the pros.
Posted March 30, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- In direct contrast to loneliness, solitude can often be a positive state that should be sought rather than avoided.
- The level of self-sufficiency between individuals who are entirely, mostly, partly, or not single at heart varies greatly.
- Those who are single at heart are more likely to enjoy and benefit from solitude.
One of the purported benefits of being in a long-term relationship is the guarantee that those involved will not be forced to spend time alone.
Proponents of marriage argue that living as a couple or as a family helps to prevent situations of loneliness and isolation, which in turn can lead to anxiety, depression, and other health problems, especially in old age.1
This psychological course, however, is in direct conflict with many spiritual leaders, philosophers, and artists who praise the advantages of spending time alone. Historically, some of the most celebrated thinkers and creators – from Wordsworth to Nietzsche, the Baal Shem Tov, the Buddha, Einstein, and others – extolled the value of spending time away from others.
What if, instead of focusing on the disadvantages of being lonely and by oneself, the focus was shifted to the benefits of solitude?
Solitude, like loneliness, implies spending time alone. Yet, in direct contrast to loneliness, solitude can often be a positive state of being that should be sought rather than avoided.
Instead of focusing on the negative experiences of being alone, the study of solitude as a practice reveals that a different approach to this reality can promote freedom, creativity, intimacy, spirituality, and therefore happiness.2
Indeed, solitude brings rewards to those who value it. Singles, then, particularly singles who appreciate the value of spending time alone, can benefit greatly from the relationship circumstances that facilitate solitude that would be more elusive for individuals living with their partners.
In fact, augmenting the happiness that singles can gain from solitude is the idea that those who are single, or plainly single at heart, are more likely to enjoy and benefit from solitude. Single at heart refers to a type of individual whose personality and nature mean that they live the happiest, fullest, and most authentic lives when they are not in relationships. People who are single at heart thrive the most from solitude and self-sufficiency and are also more likely to reap emotional rewards from spending time by themselves.3
The level of self-sufficiency between individuals who are entirely, mostly, partly, or not single at heart varies greatly, though it is clear that almost everyone benefits from some amount of solitude.
Some studies even point out how being single and self-sufficient can be beneficial. For example, in comparing psychological resources available to married and never-married heterosexual adults, a moderated regression analysis indicates no significant differences in mental health between the study groups.4
Moreover, the study suggests that never-married individuals achieve a higher level of personal mastery than their married counterparts, particularly those above the age of forty. In other words, those who had never married had clearer personal visions and goals, exhibited higher levels of patience, and were more prepared to view reality objectively.
It should be noted here that although individuals who remain single may be predisposed to do so due to higher levels of innate or learned self-sufficiency, the level of self-sufficiency moderately increases with time as people remain single. Regarding the extent to which an individual who is single at heart, the more single at heart a person is, the more likely self-sufficiency will improve their ability to protect themselves from negative emotions.
There is even evidence to suggest that singles, who are more accustomed to benefiting from time spent alone, are capable of being their own sources of comfort and security, though further research is required in order to ascertain the mechanisms behind this phenomenon.
Indeed, my study reveals that singles are oftentimes better equipped to deal with loneliness. Following these findings and based on the interviews I conducted, it is clear that singles can be happy and satisfied with their solo way of living, and their numbers are growing.
1 Christina Victor, Sasha Scambler, John Bond, and Ann Bowling, 'Being Alone in Later Life: Loneliness, Social Isolation and Living Alone', Reviews in Clinical Gerontology, 10 (2000), 407-17.
2 Christopher R Long, and James R Averill, 'Solitude: An Exploration of Benefits of Being Alone', Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 33 (2003), 21-44.
3 Bella DePaulo, 'Single in a Society Preoccupied with Couples', Handbook of solitude: Psychological perspectives on social isolation, social withdrawal, and being alone (2014), 302-16.
4 Jamila Bookwala, and Erin Fekete, 'The Role of Psychological Resources in the Affective Well-Being of Never-Married Adults', Journal of social and personal relationships, 26 (2009), 411-28; Jamila Bookwala, 'Marriage and Other Partnered Relationships in Middle and Late Adulthood', Handbook of families and aging (2012), 91-123.