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Loneliness VS Solitude
There have been a lot of articles lately talking about the negative effects of loneliness on our mental and physical health and on that of society. Indeed this is a problem that needs to be addressed. But what is the distinction between loneliness and solitude? Is being alone always a negative, or are there instances where it can be beneficial? Let’s explore this distinction in detail and get a sense of how to understand this issue in the best way.
The Problem of Loneliness in Modern Society
Recent research has found there are a large number of people in countries such as Britain and the United States who report feeling socially isolated. In 2014, The Guardian published a report from the Office for National Statistics which found that British residents reported more feelings of loneliness than anywhere else in Europe. British people, according to their data, were “less likely to have strong friendships or know their neighbors than anywhere else in the EU.”
Loneliness is a problem that often affects older people, especially when families are living in different places. But there are an increasing number of younger adults (defined as 18-34) who also reported feeling this way. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation in the UK found that a larger amount of younger people reported feeling lonely and feeling depressed about than middle-aged or elderly adults.
Why is this happening? There are several factors at work. A general trend toward social atomization has occurred in recent decades in the Western world, particularly in English-speaking countries like the UK and the US. It has become more common for people to commute longer distances to work, resulting in the rise of “bedroom communities” where people simply sleep rather than closely-knit communities where people know each other and regularly interact. This is further accompanied by the fact that lots of people relocate to other cities and towns for job opportunities. In doing so, they are leaving their family and old circle of friends behind. It can be difficult to rebuild that after relocating to a new place where you don’t know anyone. Some studies also cite lack of funding for public spaces like community centers or libraries as additional factors contributing to this loneliness epidemic.
The costs of all this are becoming clearer as time goes on: There is now a multitude of evidence showing how loneliness can have a negative effect on both mental and physical health. Some research even suggests the effects are as serious as smoking or obesity.
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Solitude VS Loneliness
It is important to distinguish solitude from loneliness because they are not at all the same. While loneliness is an unpleasant circumstance than people do not choose for themselves, the term solitude describes when someone intentionally chooses to be alone for a while. This can actually be beneficial, as it provides an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and put things in perspective. After all, even Superman had his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic.
Some people need lots of solitude. For others, a little goes a long way. The bottom line is that solitude can be beneficial, while loneliness is never a good thing. Now that we’re clear on the differences, what can you do to solve the problem of loneliness in your own life?
- Reconnect with people. Call up your friends from school, or your family back home. Travel home for a party or some other function and reconnect in person. It’s easy to build up some positive social momentum by reaching out to people you already know. Given how common loneliness is nowadays, a lot of them are probably in the same situation and would be happy if you reached out to them.
- Volunteer. Helping others will make you feel better as well. It’s also a great way to get out of the house and connect with more people. When you are spending your time and energy helping others in need, it helps you to realize that your problems, loneliness in this case, are not the only thing that exists, and it can help you get out of the negative space.
- Join clubs and take classes. Pretty self-explanatory— plus it’s a great way to connect with people who will genuinely share your interests.
- Treat your social life like a part time job. Once you’ve reached out to people and made some new connections, make a point of getting together regularly. Meet up for a happy hour or for coffee once a week, or have a backyard barbeque. It’s important to be hanging out in person (not on social media) with people you like and care about on a regular basis. It fulfills that innate need for social contact that all humans have.
Try these tips out for yourself. And while you’re at it— make some time for an occasional dose of solitude as well.