Home World I like my own company. But am I spending too much time alone?

I like my own company. But am I spending too much time alone?

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 I like my own company. But am I spending too much time alone?

Wwhat did I do on the weekend? Saturday morning, I called my sister, then my parents. A man stopped to pick up a rug he bought from me online and we had a brief conversation about the benefits of buying second hand.

Then I went for a run with my gym members, our conversation diminishing with each mile.

I spent the rest of the weekend alone and – aside from banter with customer service staff and delivery drivers – in almost uninterrupted silence. In total, my social interactions probably lasted two hours out of a total of 48.

Whether this idea seems heavenly or nightmarish to you probably depends on your own relationship to “alone time.” For someone who works long hours in a highly social job or is raising young children, a single day may be considered a luxury. But if you spend most of your time alone, and not by choice, it can feel like a burden.

More and more of us are spending more time alone, thanks to cultural trends like remote working and a growing number of people choosing to remain single and to live alone. Out of 2000 American adults interviewed by Newsweek last year, almost half (42%) reported being less sociable than in 2019. That’s certainly been the case for me — but not for the worse.

My life became smaller and, in some ways, quieter when, in 2021, I moved to a new city and started living on my own for the first time – but instead of feeling alone, I was mostly more productive and more satisfied. In the new peace and quiet, I realized that I needed a lot more time alone than I had previously allowed myself.

NOTToday, a new book asks us to reconsider loneliness. In Solitude: The Science and Power of Being Alone, authors Netta Weinstein, Heather Hansen, and Thuy-vy T Nguyen argue that time spent alone is not necessarily a threat to our well-being, nor is it an inherent good.

According to the authors, “alone time” and the extent to which it is beneficial or detrimental are very personal things and poorly understood by researchers.

“It’s something that society tends to frown upon. We tend to confuse the word ‘loneliness’ with loneliness,” says Nguyen, associate professor of psychology at Durham University and lead researcher on his study. Loneliness laboratory.

But they are different. Loneliness refers to the distress felt over unmet social needs and loneliness is a state of simply being alone.

“You can be with other people and feel alone,” says Nguyen. “Loneliness has more to do with the quality of our relationships: how connected you feel to the people around you. »

For centuries, the two were used interchangeably, complicating analyzes today. But while loneliness has been studied for decades, “the literature on loneliness is just starting to catch up,” Nguyen says.

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People talk about it as an experience best avoided, either unbearable or unsavory, or as an escape for the privileged – think of the tech billionaires who go off the grid to “detox” solo.

But these are extreme, even pejorative representations: “There has been no coverage of loneliness as a very ordinary thing that we all experience,” Nguyen says.

As a state, this is neither negative nor positive. “But some people have trouble managing that time, even if it’s only 15 minutes,” she adds.

Your own baseline may depend on what you’re used to. You might be less comfortable with your own business if you never have the opportunity to practice.

WAlthough one might assume that introverts are more comfortable in their own company than extroverts, Nguyen’s opinion study last year found no evidence of a link between introversion and a preference for solitude. Instead, a negative association was found with neuroticism, suggesting that people who have better control over their emotions tend to spend more (and better quality) time alone.

This finding demonstrates the lack of nuance in discussions of loneliness, with previous research often linking it to psychological problems. Nguyen’s research shows that our preferences and tolerance vary not only from individual to individual, but also from day to day.

“The more we study solitude, the more I am convinced that it has a real regulatory power,” she says.

From a biological perspective, socializing is exhausting, even if we love it; solitude “allows us to rest and recover,” says Nguyen. There may also be psychological needs that are easier to satisfy in solitude, such as feelings of freedom and autonomy.

Loneliness may seem unnatural in the context of our species’ sociable nature, but one study found that people who spend time alone tend to have higher quality relationships. “In this sense, solitude fits perfectly into our framework for thinking about ourselves as social animals,” says Nguyen. We just don’t tend to see things that way.

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Although the situation is slowly changing, a cultural stigma against loneliness persists. We might even struggle to view time spent alone as equal to time spent in the company of others. “In my calendar, I write events when I meet other people; I don’t invest in things that I do myself,” says Nguyen.

I have found that one monastic weekend each month is enough for me to completely recharge my batteries. After three straight days alone, I start to go a little crazy, my thoughts falling into well-worn patterns (about past mistakes or future fears) that are rarely productive.

This is the balance I have achieved now; it may not be useful to me in 30, 10 or even five years. At the Solitude Lab in Durham, Nguyen is currently studying people’s transition to retirement, as well as first-time mothers: two examples of how changing our experience of “alone time” can be.

New retirees tend to express apprehension about the sudden increase in solo time, and even worry about how to fill those hours, she says, while new mothers may report feeling lonely even if they are never separated from their baby.

Solitude can feel relatively unstructured, aimless, and even empty — “almost like we have to create our own path” through it, Nguyen adds.

It’s true that too much time alone can focus our attention on how we experience a lack of social connections, in quantity or especially in quality: a condition of loneliness. There is also a risk of rumination, contributing to the development of depression or anxiety.

If a person has mental health issues, they shouldn’t continue on alone, Nguyen says. But loneliness itself – even when it constitutes a “chronic condition,” as one might say of people who, like me, live alone – is not necessarily detrimental to well-being.

“This, for me, is the biggest misunderstanding about the relationship between loneliness and solitude: loneliness is not something that emerges on its own, in and of itself – it is usually symptomatic,” says Nguyen.

These contributing factors could be physical health issues that affect people’s ability to socialize; difficulty forming or maintaining relationships; and, for younger children, harassment or problems at home. There may also be structural challenges, such as the isolation immigrants often face and the decline of accessible, inexpensive “third spaces” in which to spend time.

But too often, Nguyen says, talk of the reported loneliness “epidemic” overlooks these broader factors and focuses on individual risk factors. “The emphasis is on social interactions,” says Nguyen.

Efforts to reduce the cost of living and improve access to health care could be effective in solving the problem by giving people more time and opportunities to make connections. American Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, called for a shift in societal priorities, “to restructure our lives around people” rather than work and technology.

In the meantime, I wonder if the stigma against loneliness prevents us from making the most of it. The worst I feel about my time alone is when I think about other people’s judgments and what I think. should make my weekends. Am I wasting the best years of my life waiting for strangers to come and collect my furniture?

But Nguyen doesn’t think so. If you want your own business, “allow yourself to have it,” she says. “Being away from others doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your social life…it also feeds our loneliness.”

My leisurely weekend may not have been anything special, but I started the week feeling rested, refreshed and – along with the carpet business – richer, in more ways than one.

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