The Science of Solitude
Solitude can be hard to find in a world where we’re always plugged in, but science says: It’s worth the effort.
As the bestselling author, psychotherapist and clinical social worker Amy Morin observes in her research-backed article for Inc., “Solitude is an essential component to your health and well-being.”
If you need some more inspiration, consider this: A researcher at Columbia University was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying: “Cultivating this sense of being alone and making the choice to be alone can help you to develop who you are, your sense of self, and what your true interests are,” says. “Knowing oneself makes it easier to find other people who share your passions, and can improve your empathy.”
The problem, as Medium contributor Leah Bury writes, is that:
“…so many of us today are becoming increasingly compelled to push these moments of solitude away, or to fill them with some form of a distraction….
“[The author Cal] Newport cautions that in missing these moments of solitude, we miss out on crucial processing time that allows us to gain self-insight and really grow into ourselves as people with unique values and meaningful lives. Not only do we miss out on positive things happening right in front of us, but we also introduce negative habits and distractions that take the space of the things that really matter to us as individuals.”
Ok, But First…What, Exactly, Is Solitude?
Newport has helped to popularize a practical definition of solitude from the authors of the book Lead Yourself First: “Time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.” Surprise: This means that activities such as reading and consuming various forms of media, such as music, TV, social media, and podcasts, don’t qualify. But there are plenty of ways you can practice solitude in your daily life, and plenty of reasons to do so.
9 Science-Backed Benefits of Solitude
According to Morin’s articles for Forbes and Inc., here are some science-backed benefits of solitude.
- It Boosts Your Compassion
- It Fuels Your Creativity
- It Makes You More Productive
- It Reduces Stress and Depression
- It Makes You Happier
- It Improves Your Life Satisfaction
- It Boosts Your Confidence
- It Helps You Regulate Your Emotions
- It Improves Your Social Relationships
From our perspective, the real-life benefits of solitude help us cultivate healthier, happier, more meaningful lives. This, in turn, helps us connect more authentically (and, perhaps, more intuitively) to other like-minded people — and, ideally, to work together to help others in our communities, and the world at large, cultivate more health, happiness, and meaning in their lives.
With that in mind, here are our favorite tips for enjoying solitude.
12 Ways to Savor Solitude
For starters, we suggest carving out some time for solitude on a weekly, or even daily basis. (Some experts say even 30 minutes per week can make a positive impact on your health and wellbeing.) Choose activities you know you’ll enjoy, to keep your inspiration factor high. Last but not least: Power down your digital devices before you begin. Then try one or more of the following activities:
- Take a walk
- Practice mindfulness
- Practice yoga, chi-kung or tai’ chi
- Spend time in nature
- Start an art project
- Learn a new skill (offline!)
- Savor a cup of tea
- Or perhaps best of all…do nothing!
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