The Importance of Solitude for Happiness

Humans are social creatures and socializing comes easy. Solitude is another matter. Solitude runs counter to the demands of society. Even so, happiness can be found in solitude, even though society depends on the combined efforts of all people to contribute to the greater good. Taking time for yourself is often viewed as selfish and unproductive.

Solitude is also uncomfortable for many people because they’re learned to derive their self-esteem from activities initiated by their “other selves” — that is, their efforts to satisfy themselves by satisfying others.

Your “other self” includes such roles as child, student, sibling, grandchild, Girl Scout, athlete, employee, employer, church deacon, neighbor, and citizen. When you serve your “other self” you achieve some measure of happiness — true — but there are also important benefits that come from spending time with your “personal self,” that part of you that doesn’t need other people to be happy.

  • Solitude allows your body to catch up with your mind. In this crazy aggressive existence that most people live in, we’re always tilting forward — our minds are way out in front of our bodies, thinking, analyzing, and planning ahead. It’s only when you stop and get off the merry-go-round of daily life that your mind and body can once again get back into sync.

  • Solitude allows your brain to rest. In a world of overstimulation, our minds are constantly in an overactive mode. Solitude allows your mind to detach from all the endless chatter coming from the environment around you — the radio, the Internet, conversations, street noise, traffic sounds, barking dogs — and rest for a change.

  • Solitude jumpstarts the parasympathetic nervous system (the branch of the autonomic nervous system that calms you down). When you’re able to get some time to yourself, your muscles relax, your blood pressure decreases, and your heart rate slows. Think of solitude as the anti-adrenaline system that kicks on when there’s no longer a need for the fight-or-flight response.

  • Solitude prevents burnout. Burnout is what happens when you’re subjected to prolonged, intense, and unresolved stress. You run out of physical and psychological energy, and you act in a disorganized, inefficient, erratic manner.

  • Solitude enhances creativity. Solitude frees the mind up from all the distractions of everyday life and allows it to focus more fully on one thing. It allows your brain to think outside the box and to come up with unique, extraordinary solutions to ordinary problems. That’s part of why artists — painters, sculptures, musicians, writers — spend so much time alone.

  • Solitude can be a time of self-discovery. Solitude is your chance to learn something about yourself. Self-discovery is a process that involves asking and answering four basic questions:

    • Who am I?

    • What makes me unique?

    • Where am I going in life?

    • Am I comfortable with myself?

  • Solitude allows you an opportunity to deal with the big questions in your life. At various times in your life, you’ll be faced with big questions like “It takes time and a lot of careful thought to come up with the answers. Such answers are more likely to come to mind in a quiet, introspective moment — solitude — than when you’re fully engaged in your usual day-to-day activities.

    If you want to know if you’re suffering from vital exhaustion, ask yourself the following questions:

    • Do you feel fresh and rested when you first wake up in the morning?

    • Do you ever feel like a battery that’s losing its charge?

    If you answered no to the first question and yes to the second question, you’re definitely a candidate for vital exhaustion. This alone increases your chances of sudden cardiac death by 42 percent and, if combined with chronic anger, increases your chances by a whopping 69 percent. If this is the case, here are some options you should consider:

    • Learn to control your anger better.

    • Cut back on smoking and alcohol use as these are highly correlated with vital exhaustion.

    • Take a few minutes to meditate each day.

    • Engage in an activity that is uplifting both in mind and body.

    • Spend less time working and more time playing.

    • Start getting a good night’s sleep, exercise more, and eat a healthier diet.

  • Solitude provides an opportunity for perspective. When you’re caught up in the hassles of day-to-day life, all you can see is what’s directly in front of you — the problem of the moment. If you want to see and appreciate the big picture of what your life’s all about, you have to step back and get a bird’s-eye view — and that’s exactly what solitude allows you to do.

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