Solitude Vs. Loneliness: Two Nonfiction Books

Solitude is not necessarily about loneliness. It is, in fact, a condition that can be appreciated, cultivated, and enjoyed. Below are two nonfiction books that address the benefits of solitude.

I. How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland (2014)

Kate KellawayThe Guardian, asked Maitland the important question about the difference between solitude and loneliness: “Solitude is a description of a fact: you are on your own. Loneliness is a negative emotional response to it. People think they will be lonely and that is the problem – the expectation is also now a cultural assumption.”

Selected Quotes from How to Be Alone:

Most of us have a dream of doing something in particular which we have never been able to find anyone to do with us. And the answer is simple really: do it yourself.

Remember it is quite normal to be a bit frightened of being alone. Most of us grew up in a social environment that sent out the explicit message that solitude was bad for you: it was bad for your health (especially your mental health) and bad for your “character” too.

…(B)eing alone can be beneficial and it is certainly not detrimental to well-being, provided the individuals have freely chosen it. A good deal of the “scientific evidence” for the danger [of solitude] to physical and mental health comes from studies of people in solitary confinement.

II. Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris (2017)

Below Michael Harris offers “Five Ways Being Alone Will Improve Your Life” (Time). Click on the link for additional details.

  1.  Politics. Getting our news on social media doesn’t necessarily lend itself to increasing our understanding. “We all need time away from the red-faced online crowds if we want to consider the things they’re shouting. The radical thinkers of tomorrow will be people who know how to remove themselves from toxic pools of public discourse; they’ll be people who have mastered the art of moving back and forth, between crowd and solitude.”
  2. Daydreaming. “Studies show that, when the mind wanders, our brains activate what’s called a ‘default mode network.’ An intense series of brain functions go to work, despite the ‘blankness’ that the brain projects to us…While institutions continue to place an emphasis on concentration and collaboration, it’s worth asking why so many of our greatest artists and scientists make a habit of solitary walks in the woods or through city parks…”
  3. Culture Consumption. Instead of going with the mainstream film, book, and song suggestions that everyone else goes for, do we really know what we actually prefer? “We owe it to ourselves to step away from these crowd-fueled suggestions and foster our inner weirdos instead. What do you really like? There are stranger things waiting to be loved.”
  4. Wayfinding. Now using such tools as GPS and Google Maps, we tend not to get lost anymore. But “feeling wholly alone in an unforgiving landscape, might be better for us than we think.” It’s a skill that can be helpful. “Try taking a drive in a strange town without your phone. Try walking into the woods alone. When we get lost, we have a chance to find ourselves.”
  5. Relationships. “We cannot desire that which we already possess. Three-dimensional love must include periods of separation: as Rilke noted, ‘the highest task for a bond between two people [is] that each protects the solitude of the other’…Walking away from our phones, resisting the urge to Facebook-stalk our boyfriends and girlfriends, composing a single love letter instead of a hundred inconsequential texts, will shake up a relationship more than any ‘disruptive’ technology.”

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