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20 Varieties of Solitude

seniorIn 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.

1.      Freedom

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.”

2.    Enlightenment

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.”

3.   Intimacy

Reminiscence: “You recall events you have experienced or people you have known.”

Intimacy: “You feel especially close to someone you care about.”

4.   Relaxation

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.”

5.   Loneliness

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.

20 Varieties of Solitude


Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyZysfafOAs. Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at www.BellaDePaulo.com.


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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2014). 20 Varieties of Solitude. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 17, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/single-at-heart/2014/02/20-varieties-of-solitude/

 

Last updated: 26 Feb 2014
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