Solitude vs. Loneliness.

April 17, 2024

Solitude vs. Loneliness.

May 29, 2023

One is a choice. The other is a crisis.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy cites the health risks of loneliness are as lethal as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than those associated with obesity and physical inactivity. In case you're wondering, Americans are lonelier than Europeans. In fact, the number of Americans over 50 living alone has nearly doubled since 2000. Living alone doesn't mean you're lonely, but it does mean that you better start believing that friendship is a practice, a muscle you need to exercise; otherwise, it will atrophy. 

Of course, solitude is more enjoyable if you're in control of it. People who pursue solitude of their own volition tend to report that it feels full—like they're full of ideas or thoughts or things to do. They enjoy their own company and their connection to animals and nature. Wendell Berry knew this when he observed that "true solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation" - the places where "one's inner voices become audible."

A few years ago, I did a survey on the MEA private Facebook group asking, "Are you more or less extroverted than you were 20 years ago?" We got 430 responses with the following distribution, which suggests that as we age, we appreciate our alone time: 

  • Less extroverted, more introverted 48%
  • More extroverted, less introverted 21%
  • Pretty much the same, I'm an extrovert 11%
  • I've become an "ambivert" 9%
  • Pretty much the same, I'm an introvert 3%
  • Various other added answers 8%

In fact, most research shows that we benefit more from solitude as we age, develop more control over our time, and improve our cognitive and emotional skills to use it more constructively. Maybe this can be summed up in two sentences: Loneliness is happening to me. Solitude is happening for me. 

For many of us, our 30s and 40s were the decades when our friendships go to die. If you're ready to re-exercise your muscles, check out poet Mark Nepo's "The Power of Friendship" workshop at our Santa Fe campus September 16-21. 

-Chip

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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Navigating Transitions with Christine Sperber

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 to 
Jul 6, 2024
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Navigating Transitions with Christine Sperber

July 1, 2024
 to 
July 6, 2024
Santa Fe, USA
Jul 1, 2024
 to 
Jul 6, 2024
Santa Fe, USA