In my previous post, I shared 6 psychological insights about solitude from the chapter, “Experiences of solitude,” by James Averill and Louise Sundararajan. It was one of my favorite chapters in the just-published collection, The Handbook of Solitude.
I have thought a lot about solitude, but I didn’t fully realize just how many different experiences of solitude there are until reading the chapter. Twenty of them are listed and described below. Statistical analyses showed that the experiences clustered into five groups, with a few of the experiences not fitting clearly into just one of the groups. (Those are listed under “other experiences of solitude.”)
In research by Yao Wang reviewed in the chapter, American and Chinese university students rated the desirability of the 20 different experiences of time alone. Using the American ratings, I have listed the five main groups in the order of desirability. So, for Americans, experiences of freedom were the most desirable experiences of being alone. Within each of the five groups, I also arranged the specific examples the same way – the ones rated most desirable by the Americans are listed first.
The American and Chinese ratings were most different for freedom and problem-solving. Americans found the experience of freedom especially more desirable than the Chinese did (though the Chinese rated it on the desirable end of the scale) and the Chinese rated the opportunity for problem-solving as more desirable than the Americans did.
Inner peace: “You feel calm and free from the pressures of everyday life.”
Freedom: “You feel free to do as you wish, without concern for social rules.”
Daydreaming: “You engage in fantasies where you could do anything you desire.”
Self-discovery: “You gain insight into your fundamental values and goals, unique strengths, and weaknesses.”
Enlightenment: “You gain better realization of life’s meaning and significance.”
Emotional refinement: “Being alone provides an opportunity to cultivate and refine your emotions.”
Self-enrichment: “You use the time to enrich yourself and to broaden your perspective.”
Creativity: “Being alone stimulates novel ideas or innovative ways of expressing yourself.”
Problem-solving: “You think about specific problems and plan a course of action.”
Reminiscence: “You recall events you have experienced or people you have known.”
Intimacy: “You feel especially close to someone you care about.”
Relaxation: “You use the time to rest or sleep and to recharge.”
Recreation: “You engage in distracting activities, for example, watch television and surf the web.”
Alienation: “You feel isolated from the rest of society, left out, and forgotten.”
Boredom: “You wish for something to occupy your mind.”
Loneliness: “You feel unappreciated, depressed, anxious, and lonely.”
Other Experiences of Solitude
Harmony: “Everything seems interconnected with everything else; you are in balance with the world.”
Self-transcendence: “As in meditation, you have a sense of transcending everyday distinctions and concerns.”
Heightened sensory awareness: “Sights and sounds seem magnified; you observe small things that you ordinarily wouldn’t notice.”
Longing: “Yearning for people or things beyond your reach at the moment.”
Solitude image available from Shutterstock.