Unlike a lot of people I know, I’m perfectly fine being alone. In fact, more often than not, I prefer it to being surrounded by people. And while solitude seems like a natural choice today, I definitely didn’t feel this way in my early 20s.
You see, the younger me had this idea that the only way to do something fun, exciting, or fulfilling was to be accompanied by friends. And yes, a social aspect can add a lot to some experiences. But the same can be said for taking in the world on your own terms.
The Evolution of Togetherness
Before I get into my own path to accepting solitude as a beneficial practice, I think it’s important to understand some of the psychological reasons humans fear loneliness.
The homo sapiens is a social creature, and we share this trait with our primate ancestors. What’s interesting, however, is that forming societies or cultures wasn’t a long process, like many scientists used to believe. Instead, research suggests it was quite a quick change.
Apparently, the shift happened around 52 million years ago, when primates moved from hunting primarily during the night to predominantly daytime activity. Without the cover of dark, individuals were too vulnerable to large predators, which quickly led them to form different types of communities.
Today, we humans are doing the same thing. While we aren’t necessarily running away from scary beasts, we indeed survive and thrive when we are in groups. Collaboration is not only crucial to our evolution as a society, but social interaction makes for one of the key elements of good mental health.
So Why Solitude?
If we know that being part of a group or community is so crucial to our survival, why would we want to be alone?
Well, yes, we do thrive when we communicate and collaborate with other people. But it is also true that we are exposed, more than ever, to a large number of societal pressures.
Between tight-knit communities and global trends, young people are increasingly under pressure to conform. This can be true for the way they look, the career path they choose, or the activities they do in their free time.
With this in mind, it becomes clear that a period of solitude can be even more than an initiation process. It can be a central formative experience that helps us come to terms with our own identities.
My First Time Being Alone
While most cultures encourage different rites of passage, my own experience was more self-imposed.
The first time I ever spent a considerable chunk of time all alone was summer break during my sophomore year at college. I was traveling on my very own, and for the first time, I was not surrounded by people my own age who I could make friends with. Yes, I did make connections, but after just a couple of days, it became clear that I would have to make do with myself alone for company most of the time.
I must admit, it seemed intimidating at first. But I found a few helping tools.
My primary hack was to always have a book and my iPod on hand. I didn’t have constant internet access that would allow me to get lost in the “wonders” of social media when feeling awkward about being on my own. So, these two props gave me something to do in situations that felt like too much. For example, if I was sitting at a cafe or having lunch, a novel or my favorite music could help me feel just a bit less alone.
But what I quickly found was that the moments of solitude that somehow felt the best were those undistracted ones. During these, I allowed myself to be quiet, alone, and take in the world around me, without the presence of a safety net.
Continuing the Practice
As my trip came to an end and I returned to my everyday routine, I started to realize I was missing those moments of solitude. Not only was I craving to be alone, but the concept suddenly didn’t feel nearly as intimidating as it had been just a couple of months before. Instead, being alone felt like being in power.
The solitude allowed me to live life by my own rules, pay attention to my needs, and be in charge of how I was spending my hard-earned time for myself.
Today, I love to seek out opportunities to be alone. In fact, I’ve made solitude into a daily habit.
For one, I tend to start my day with a morning workout. Whether it’s a quarantine-imposed yoga session on my balcony or a run around the local park, the practice acts as a type of meditation. And, it just so happens to be beneficial to my health.
The hobbies I choose – cooking and painting – also allow me to disconnect from the world and reflect. Sure, I can include other people in these as well, but on most occasions, I prefer to enjoy them on my own.
The Best Part about Being Comfortable on My Own
When I think back to that trip during summer break, I now know that it didn’t change me or my preferences. Rather, it opened up my eyes to the power of being alone – the power of choosing what to do, when to do it, and with whom.
I now understand that this “forced” solitude pushed me out of my comfort zone. But as growth only happens beyond the limits of what we feel at home with, I’m grateful to have discovered the potential of being alone sooner than later.
After all, there’s nothing more empowering than knowing that you can make it. Even if it means doing it entirely on your own.
Sarah Kaminski is a life enjoyer, positivity seeker, and a curiosity enthusiast. She is passionate about an eco-friendly lifestyle and adores her cats. She is an avid reader who loves to travel when time allows.
Image courtesy of Sasha Freemind.