To be or not to be alone

Loneliness is usually seen as a bad place to be in. There are a lot of studies that show us how important is healthy and protective socializing, as Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk showed, even to the extent that it influences our longevity. It isn’t only deep and profound relationships, like the unconditional love between parents and children that affect us. All kinds of human connection, even the casual exchange of a few words with a taxi driver or the cashier at the grocery store can be beneficial. Social Support and Longevity

That being said, maybe at some point in your life you had experienced, a feeling of freedom, peace and fulfilment by being alone? This means you were alone, but not lonely. Maybe at some point you were surrounded by a lot of people or even in an intimate relationship and still felt lonely. At a first glance these subjective experiences seem to contradict researchers’ findings, but do they?

That feeling of loneliness can sometimes be influenced not only by the lack of other people with whom to connect, but also by our expectations and perceptions of our relationships, or in other words by our emotional needs, some of them determined by well know characteristics, such as being an introvert or extrovert.

Perception and loneliness

There is one important question we intend to address: can we compensate for a lack of interpersonal relationships by changing our perspective on being alone?

  • the short answer is yes … to some degree.
  • but how? That’s the long answer.

What can we do?

The first step is to take control of the things we can control. We can increase the number of interpersonal relationships by:

  • going out with or without friends
  • participating in conferences, courses or classes (like theatre, improv, dance, sports)
  • volunteering with non-profit organisations
  • communicating with other people online

The second step is accepting the things we can’t change. We can’t always change the way things are, but we can change our point of view, our mindset, in order to be alone but not lonely. This might mean different things, some as simple as learning to take partially satisfied needs into account. What does this look like? Maybe you don’t have a significant other to give you the affection you need, but you receive affection from family and friends. It is not the same, but it is something to value and appreciate.

The philosophy of life

We often encounter the idea that we are alone in this world … we are born alone and we will die alone. For many this is a hard to swallow pill. The adepts of this philosophy often add that we use relationships mainly as an escape from reality. Even if this idea is an accurate description of reality, it doesn’t have to be seen as a pessimistic way of looking at loneliness. In contrary, it could be a healthy and protective mindset.

If all this is true … every deep connection, every friendship, every caring parent are miracles we schould appreciate even more. Every breakup or fight is a normal part of life. The moment we understand that the people in our lives will come and go, we won’t feel like it is the end of the world if a relationship ends.

Imaginary or real?

I’m not saying that our brain can’t tell the difference between daydreaming and reality, but there are studies that show that people who engage in daydreams feel more socially connected and less lonely, particularly when trying to adapt to major changes or challenges in their lives.

Social daydreamers can experience increased feelings of connectedness, love and belonging. There are a lot of studies which show that the imaginary is sometimes good enough.

Putting in an effort to increase human connections and an appreciation of the partial affections that we receive is a practical thing that can be done. Practicing daydreaming and developing a flexible and open mindset are useful techniques that help people not to feel lonely even when they are alone.

written by Karol J. Wild

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