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How to Enjoy Solitude

Photo by Vadim Pacev
Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast, or a god. ~Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon may have exaggerated, but his point was clear: most people despise being alone. People will surround themselves in harmful relationships to avoid solitude. They will change their clothes, hobbies or even their religious beliefs just to fit in. And, the idea of being completely alone in the world is a common theme in horror films.

However, there is a power in being able to find contentment in solitude. Bacon, wasn’t far off when he ascribed god-like powers to the people who can enjoy solitude. If you are able to be happy alone, then even in the emptiest times in life you can find peace and even joy.

I’m not suggesting solitude is better than being with people. Simply that it’s impossible to completely avoid aloneness in life, so it’s worth having a strategy to find joy in those moments. Enjoying solitude can also give you an independence that makes you less desperate with friends and less likely to cling onto lousy relationships.

How to Be Happy Alone

My experience with this challenge started several years ago. I lived in a small town, hundreds of kilometers away from any major center. I had few close friends in my city, and I didn’t connect well with the people around me. Additionally, I was planning to move in a year, which reduced my motivation to improve my social skills, which had been lacking.

At first, I found the solitude unbearable. I had other friends in the past, so I wasn’t used to being nearly completely isolated. I can definitely say this wasn’t a fun experience, but it did teach me a valuable lesson about how to enjoy my time alone.

By working on my internal life, I was able to not only bear the solitude, but actually enjoy it. Even now that I have many friends and my social skills have improved considerably, I still benefit from the lessons I learned enjoying solitude. It gave me an inner calm and independence that means that, although I place value in relationships and work to improve them, I don’t feel desperate to stay in any friendship or relationship that doesn’t fulfill me.

If you’re caught in the same situation I was, I feel there are two steps you can take to turn it around:

  1. Learn to draw contentment from your time alone.
  2. Improve your social skills and build new connections.

Each approach on it’s own is insufficient. If you only work on drawing contentment from your time alone, that approach can be unsatisfying if you still feel isolation is forced upon you. But if you work on your social skills and peaceful solitude in unison, you can enjoy the present while increasing your options for the future.

Side Note: Improving your social skills is outside the scope of this article, but if you’d like to read more, I’d suggest reading: Succeed Socially

Loneliness is Forced Solitude

In my opinion, a great deal of the pain caused by loneliness is due to a lack of control. Solitude is easy to enjoy when it isn’t forced. I think most people enjoy a few hours or even a few days to themselves if their regular lives are full of activity and interesting people. In fact, many people complain of a lack of space when deeply involved in relationships, which shows that solitude isn’t universally bad.

But when you lack control over your situation, solitude becomes loneliness. If you feel your isolation wasn’t chosen, and you can’t control it, that exile can be unbearable. The key, in my opinion, to regaining enjoyment in solitude and reducing loneliness, is to regain some control.

Part of that control can come from simply improving your social life directly. If you practice your social skills directly, that can boost your feeling of control and make the world seem less isolating, even if you’re still finding it difficult.

However, for some people this process will be slow or difficult. It may be hard for you to make new friends, either because you’re social muscles are still weak, or because you are stuck in a lousy situation, such as working at an isolating job or stuck in an unfriendly, small town. In that case, I think it also helps to gain control in another way.

Perfecting Your Inner World

The breakthrough for me in learning to enjoy solitude was in improving my inner world first. I may have had difficulties controlling my solitude from the outside, but I could control my inner world so that it would be more pleasant to live in.

As an analogy, imagine your house is constantly being attacked by violent weather. You have two options: you can try to change the weather (by, moving your house, for example) or you can improve the foundation of the house so that, even in violent weather, it is more comfortable to live in. The first approach is directly working on your external environment, the latter is perfecting your inner world.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories of wandering ascetics who can live without people, shelter or food for days. People who seem at peace and content, despite total isolation and harsh conditions. While stories of these people may be somewhat exaggerated, I think they are a shining example of the benefits of building a strong inner world. When the scaffolding of your inner life is strong, you can be comfortable in almost any environment.

Just as there are many ways to build a house, there are many ways to build the foundation of your inner life. However, I’m going to suggest three, as these have been the most successful for me in my own life:

  1. Build order
  2. Create drive
  3. Find meaning

1. Build Order

One way you can gain more control over your inner life is to bring more order to it. I’ve found building a routine centered around activities I care about is one of the best ways to turn otherwise painful isolation into enjoyable solitude.

I usually do this by installing habits. For me, activities I care about are exercising, working on personal projects, reading and learning new skills. You can build a habit out of any of these activities by committing to do the habit every day for at least one month. Those habits will then run more or less automatically.

The side-effect of choosing this route to enjoying solitude is that it usually improves other areas of your life as well. When I did this, I found my productivity increased, my physical fitness went up dramatically and I read hundreds of books in just a few years.

Even now, when I have a longer period without as much human contact, I am far happier with an ordered personal life. That order allows you to stay active and engaged, even when your brain would rather shut down from the lack of social stimulus. The order also provides a sense of peace that comes from knowing you are in control of your world.

2. Create Drive

Another way to improve your inner life is to build a fire of enthusiasm for something. If you have a passion or sense of meaning for your daily routine, any temporary isolation is far easier to enjoy. I’ve found the best way to create a drive is to set goals and plans of action to accomplish them. The goals need to be tied to something you have an interest in, but the act of creating the plan can often start a cycle of motivation.

If you already have goals, focusing on your goals can enable you to enjoy solitude more. I always found, even in my most isolated moments, that when I recaptured the idea of what I really wanted out of life, I felt much better. Goals can’t replace having a social life, but they can allow you to push through a temporary patch of isolation.

This route can sometimes be difficult if you aren’t sure where to start, so if you aren’t sure what might interest you enough to work passionately on it, try starting with one of the other paths.

3. Find Meaning

You might not be able to control every part of your life, but you can control the meaning in your life. If you can create a purpose for your current isolation, that doubles your strength in moving through any obstacle. For me, I decided the meaning of my current isolation was to allow me more time to build personal skills while I worked on my social life from the outside.

Sometimes people will talk about the difference between good pain and bad pain at a gym. It’s actually a silly idea: how can any pain be good, all of it hurts? The difference is that there is a meaning for the good pain, a purpose it serves as a process in making you stronger. The bad pain, alternatively, just hurts for no purpose.

The same analogy applies to solitude: there is good solitude and bad solitude. The good solitude has a constructive purpose. It may still hurt occasionally, but if you know what it’s for and why it benefits you, the solitude can be enjoyable (just as some people love the pain they get from the gym). Your goal is to turn bad solitude into good solitude by defining the meaning it has for you.

If you think there is no possible reason for your being alone, think harder. You can probably come up with many opportunities it can allow, if you try. The solitude might help you focus on another important goal you have, give you a chance to increase your independence or even just give you a better appreciation of the relationships you do have.

Are You a God or Wild Beast?

My guess is neither, but you can still enjoy solitude if you set out the right intention. Solitude may take some time and practice to master, but it can allow you to achieve an incredible sense of inner peace and calmness.

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37 thoughts on How to Enjoy Solitude

  1. Hi Scott! Very interesting post, personally, I’ve always found there’s a definite double standard as far as having roommates.

    I love people, I like waking up to an apartment or house full of click and clattering, people cooking and talking about today’s current events.. something about waking up to the sound of coffee being brewed in the morning and people waking up feels liberating for me.

    However, I hate how I need complete solitude when working, that people can immediately be my double edged sword.

    In the end, it’s something I had to learn how to cope with.

    Good post!

    –Parker

  2. Joe

    As harsh as this sounds the best way to deal with loneliness is to realize that ultimately we are all alone in this world. You truly are a god if you can deal with that fact.

    Like they said in Donnie Darko – Every living thing dies alone

  3. Wonderful post. I don’t think people enjoy solitude enough and it’s one of my favorite things. Thanks for sharing your insights on this topic.

  4. I really enjoyed this Scott. I recently wrote about “The Benefits of Being A Hermit” as I realised recently how much I enjoy alone time and what a difference it is making to me in many areas of my life. I really like how you distinguished between forced and chosen alone time as I think this can be a big factor in how you view your solitude. Interesting & practical suggestions on how to feel good about your solitude regardless.
    Thank you
    Jen

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have had my times where I indeed forced the solitude on myself and became very lonely and depressed. It took me moving back home to regroup and understand who I am and was. It was a great time for reflection. I have since moved back to Florida and I have been doing well. Thank goodness I had my friends and family to help me threw the hard time. Not everyone has the luxury of running back home.

  6. woow, massive article.

    Solitude is a skill that has been forgotten by the western society.
    It’s your direct connection to you inner self, and it clears all superficial chaos. On the deepest level, we are connected anyways. There’s no real solitude, it’s only in your head.

  7. I think that because I’m an only child that enjoying solitude comes pretty naturally. It’s nice to know that I can be social and also come back into my little space too.

    But I agree that a lot of people need to re-learn how to just be… with themselves. :)

  8. Tina,
    That was a beautiful piece. I have learned to enjoy solitude. I have had some of my most intellectual, spiritual and cathartic moments spending time by myself. It gives me time to reframe my life, honor myself and allows me to be a more quality friend, wife and mother.
    Thank you.

  9. Awesome article post buddy! I just love solitude, I like to get out of my house and into nature, preferably near some running water. It’s unbelievable refreshing just to be quiet; to finish a thought without interruption, to move at our natural pace, to let our minds and bodies settle into stillness.

  10. Jubin

    Hi Scott,

    Awesome article. Completely relate to it. I love my solitude. Over time, I have learnt that when I face such a situation, I choose to be alone rather than thinking that I am lonely. That way, as you mentioned, I have control over the situation.

    Thanks,
    Jubin

  11. Excellent article Scott! I just checked out your blog as well and subscribed. I teach speeding reading, do a lot of writing and eat mostly plants so I think you might be onto something ;)

    Anyway, this solitude topic is huge. So many people are scared to spend almost anytime alone. I know I used to be that way. I certainly love spending time with those I care about but at times nothing beats just having the world to yourself. I learned this best when I lived in Sevilla, Spain for a year and part of the time I spent traveling solo. It was scary, invigorating and amazing! It became one of my favorite ways to see the world. I learned a lifetime’s worth of information about myself and filled my journal more than ever. All I needed was a journal, a little music and some creativity.

    If you all have not experienced solo (and ideally long term) travel before, I highly recommend it. It will change you for the better. Your observations will be unreal. A great guide to this is Vagabonding: The Art of Long Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. One of my go-to books. I wrote up a review on it on ReadingForYourSuccess not long ago. You won’t be able to put that book down.

    Thanks so much Scott and happy exploring!

    Scott

  12. One practice found in virtually every spiritual tradition on the globe is that of taking a pilgrimage, often alone, to discover what you’re being asked to do with your life. Vision quest, pilgrimage, a quiet but truly reflective hike in a beautiful natural setting, all of these times “alone” can help us learn about ourselves, and ultimately, that we’re never really alone.

  13. Nia

    Once again, TSN has come up with the ‘right’ article for me just when I need it the most. I look forward to putting your wise words to good use so I can make the most of my life. Many thanks!

  14. Bingo! It’s not the solitude as much as it is the lack of control over when it happens! My husband travels for work. A Lot. And much of the time I don’t know when the jobs will come. So…It’s hard. Especaily hard because he loves what he does (which is fantastic) but leaves me feeling quite alone and ‘lonely’. But in the last couple of years I’ve started getting more ‘order’ like you say- and I’m much more into my projects…so this is good. I really enjoyed this article. Thank you so much.

  15. Hi Scott, I crave solitude and need it. If I don’t get it I start to go a bit batty. But I’m definitely social and wouldn’t like to be alone for too long…probably a week tops:) Thanks Tina for introducing us to Scott:)

  16. You’ve hit on a key element of happiness. If we can’t enjoy our time alone, we won’t fully enjoy being with others.

    It puts too much pressure on social situations to expect them to fill all our needs. We come off as needy and that is unappealing.

    It’s essential to be able to fill ourselves up on the inside first so that we bring a full person to the social situation.

    Thank you for stressing the importance of taking control of our lives and creating order, drive and meaning. With those in place we will never be lonely again, whether we are alone or with others. What a wonderful thing!

  17. A well-thought out and useful article. I particularly like the emphasis on taking control of the situation. Our needs can cause us trouble because we desire something that we cannot fulfill by ourselves and this causes tension because we cannot control our outcomes and our happiness.

    Loneliness occurs when we have a need for company but can’t get it. Changing a need into a choice helps to calm the mind. Instead of saying internally, “I need company,” you can instead say, “I would prefer to have company right now, but I don’t have it, so I might as well get on with enjoying the moment as best as I can.”

    I think an important thing to do when you have a plan and take action on it is to do so intensively at the start. The chances are that 20% of your activities will produce 80% of your social contact, so discover them quickly by doing a lot in the beginning.

    I just moved to a new city and I’m continually filling up my calendar with new things to do and events to visit in order to find out where my kind of people are. It’s working well. The phone rings a lot more often now :)

  18. Korra Juliana

    I came across your article as the word solitude has been a lot in my mind lately. So I am doing some research on it. I have been having a vision and this word Solitude kept coming in my head. I did not really know the meaning of it (english is not my native language) so I decided to google it to find the meaning of this word. And I found exactly what I was looking for. The vision that I have been having is that we (people everywhere) are in need of a place for solitude. Not a place attached to any religion or believe, but a place where we can go to be with our inner selves, our thoughts to connect with ourselves. We are all very buzy doing so many things at a time. But we don’t take the time and have the space were we can really be with ourselves. Yes we pray and many of us meditate. But we still somethings need to physically go somewhere to recharge. This place I go to in my vision is a place of beauty, peace, quieteness, and solitude. But solitude in the most postive way. The constructive way. A place where everyone is equal, where no one tells you what to do and how to do it, but a place where you can find the answers within. Because deep down, we all know the answers. This place is not somewhere in a far away and exotic destination. This place is found everywhere in all countries. Just like in every country you have places for vacation, spas, gyms. Everyone clearly knows the purpose of those places. The same with this kind of place. I can see the place in my vision and it’s beautiful! It fills me up with peace and joy, just by thinking of it. But I keep thinking, “Is this something just I want and need?” “Does it make sence to others?” I hope that you can help as this keeps running through my head.

  19. Loved the article, and I would like to share with my readers (I will post with a full link back) After 26 years of being with someone… then deciding to leave… solitude and living alone has been a challenge (never ever lived alone, went from parents house to my husbands) that I thought I would come easy. I am going to print out this article and keep it close, to remind myself that I am going through the most wonderful time in my life and how to capture and make the most of it!

  20. Great article Scott and some fine points. Particularly “The breakthrough for me in learning to enjoy solitude was in improving my inner world first.”

    Reminds me of a quote or passage I read somewhere years ago, “Misery derives from ones inability to set in a quiet room alone.” For years I was miserable simply because I could not stand to be alone with myself. A head filled with self-loathing, guilt, fear, etc. Yet on the outside I appeared to have it all together and even half believed that myself.

    When my wife was 20 her mother was killed. We were discussing that not long ago and she said, “after my mother died, nothing in life was ever going to be as good as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, life is great, but when something awesome happens in your life your mother is the first person you want to share it with.” I found that interesting. And although solitude for me now is most rewarding, it’s not as good as it could be sharing a special moment with someone I love. Although by being able to enjoy moments of solitude and relish in self-love and acceptance, I’m better able to accept and give love unconditionally.

    True happiness is not contingent on others or forces outside of myself (expectations). And the inability to find inner-peace and happiness in solitude is mostly a result of attaching our happiness to external things. For me “improving my inner world first” was required before I could ever truly enjoy solitude. I had to get rid of all the trash that I couldn’t sit with while alone. I forced myself into solitude as sort of a punishment I guess, and thus was lonely.

    It all really revolves around developing self-love. As I didn’t love myself, neither was I worthy of love from others. Thus I mostly treated loneliness with isolation; not solitude.

  21. I actually really enjoy being by myself on a regular basis. Although it can be very confrontational just being somewhere all alone.

    Practising solitude -although it seems a bit odd at first- really helped me in understanding myself. Once you just sit down and shut up for a while without any distractions (people, computers, phones, tv, books, music… candles or even incense) you can hear your mind chattering, it’s busier than twitter on election day in there.

    I started practising solitude two years ago, and now every evening I just sit down, counting my breaths and ignoring my chattering mind. (You might recognize it as zazen). Over the months and years, it has gotten quieter in there and it’s actually a delight to just sit there and be calm and relaxed.

    What’s the use? Try following 1000 people on twitter and still making sense of it all. Now apply a filter, or stop following 1000 people and just follow 10. Things get much clearer, those precious few get more attention and you notice everything they do. The same goes for the mind and body. You’ll become much more aware of what is going on “up there” and “in here” (Which are actually the same place…)

    ps. Yes it hurts sitting absolutely still for 25 minutes, but that’s what endorphins are for. You’ll be eager to get back on that pillow every night within a week I promise you!

  22. Anjanette

    This was a great post as I am currently assessing this in my life. I have lived with people my whole life, from my family, to my best friend, to living in a commune with 24 people in Venice, CA. But the interesting thing is I moved to a small town in MI where it seems like everyone is connected because everyone knows each other. And I went from being generally independent to co-dependent and not really knowing why. I needed to be out with people, I would cry because I didn’t have many friends, and I couldn’t sit still and give me time to reflect. I am working on enjoying my solitude, and I mean quiet, no TV or music on, distraction-less solitude, which is hard for me. I am looking into guided meditation, doing more art, and reading much more. I am getting my confidence back to do things on my own, just like I used to. It’s a journey, but one I am enjoying and one that’s worth taking.

  23. I revel in solitude. It really gives me perspective on life. I don’t enjoy it all the time, but often enough.

  24. Solitude is definitely something that takes getting used to. Most people are so used to looking to others for ideas, permission, and approval that suddenly not having that other person’s opinion and support can be jarring. But if you do it right, it can also be very fulfilling and uplifting to do things by yourself and gain some of the peace that comes with solitude. Just make sure it doesn’t turn into loneliness!

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