Perhaps no person anywhere has more responsibilities, more power, or more burdens than the President of the United States. Barack Obama gets precious little sleep. At the end of the day, when there are no more meetings on his calendar, when he’s already had dinner, and – except for the stack of briefing papers – his time is his own, what does he want to do with his time?
I know what I’d want to do: sleep. That’s what President George W. Bush chose: He was usually in bed by 10 pm. President Bill Clinton like to stay up late and talk on the phone with friends and fellow political types into the wee hours. President Obama is a late night person, too. But he craves time to himself. Four or five hours to himself. He reads (always those 10 letters from ordinary Americans he reads every evening, always briefing papers, sometimes novels), maybe works on a speech, sometimes with ESPN on in the background.
He could skim some time off the reading for pleasure or watching sports, and instead get a bit more sleep. It is not as if he doesn’t crave sleep – he looks forward to getting a whole lot more once he leaves the White House. But he seems to savor his solitude even more. That’s what I learned from the New York Times article, “Obama after dark: The precious hours alone.”
What the most powerful person in the world wants is time alone.
Researchers in psychology have been obsessed with loneliness. Go to the database of all psychology publications, PsycINFO, and type in “loneliness” and you will get more than 8,000 results. Type in “solitude” and you will get fewer than 1,000. Loneliness is a serious matter and deserves research attention. But solitude is significant, too. The research and theory available so far suggests that the rewards of spending time alone, for those who are open to them, include creativity, relaxation, restoration, spirituality, and personal growth.
President Obama, of course, is married, and many married people cherish some time to themselves. My guess, though, is that single people are even more likely to value their time alone. My preliminary research on people who are “single at heart” shows that they embrace their alone time. When asked how they feel when they have some time to themselves on the horizon, about 95% say they expect to savor that time, and only 5% worry that they might be lonely. That’s quite the contrast with popular stereotypes of single people, which insists that most single people are lonely and that getting married will cure that. Neither is true.