By Ben Martin, Psy.D.
There is a great difference between being lonely and being alone. Many people are alone and lead happy lives. It may behoove us to study some of their traits, because many of us are likely to be alone at some point in our lives. Points to consider:
- Our culture has a high divorce rate.
- Statistics show that wives outlive husbands.
- Our society advocates self-sufficiency and independence.
Contrary to many beliefs, the elderly are not the most lonely among us. It is young people who are most lonely, and herein may lie some of the differences between being lonely and being alone.
Many elderly people have developed traits or habits that help them be comfortable with themselves alone. They have found ways to keep busy mentally. Many rely on good memories of a deceased spouse for comfort while relishing the peace and quiet of a household void of too much activity. They have reached the point where their status quo is calmness.
The young, however, are subject to a wide range of moods. They may be up one morning and down that evening or up and down several times in a given day. They are often bored and restless to the point of being unhappy for no clear reason. When they are not sought after and included in all activities of their peers, their self-esteem takes a hit.
When they are lonely, they blame themselves and resort to activities that exclude social contact or productivity, such as watching too much television.
Being alone can have its advantages. The creative person craves time alone. Any professional who takes a sabbatical and spends some time alone returns refreshed mentally and spiritually.
To reap the rewards of solitude, a person who feels lonely can tune out thoughts of self and seek out activities. They can:
- write letters
- care for a pet
- enroll in a correspondence course
A person who is feeling lonely should avoid situations such as:
- drinking alcohol alone
- using other escapes such as non-prescribed medications
- watching so much television that it becomes a substitute for socializing
It may sometimes be good to be alone, but it is rarely good to be lonely.