Mind | Written by: Neda Shamsdiba

Solitude vs Loneliness: What’s the Difference?

There’s a huge stigma around being alone.

Society tells the story that doing things alone—that eating out alone, that traveling alone, that being single—is directly associated with sadness, strangeness, and wrongness.

But what if I told you that you could spend time alone and be completely happy? There’s a big difference between solitude and loneliness.

One can be beneficial to all aspects of your life, and the other could kill you.

So what’s the difference?

What’s Loneliness?

Loneliness is a negative state of being alone. It’s usually characterized by the feeling that something is missing or wrong.

It’s being alone, and not liking it.

Loneliness can stem from not being comfortable with yourself or from feeling like you’re an outcast or don’t belong, and it can be unbearable.

And it’s a common feeling.

Even as our world grows smaller and smaller with the increased connectivity of the internet and social media, the world becomes more lonely. A recent study found that almost half of the 20,000 Americans surveyed reported sometimes or always feeling lonely.

So what’s the big deal with feeling a little lonely?

Well, researchers say that loneliness can be so bad that it’s a predictor of premature death.

But, that doesn’t mean everyone who is alone is miserable and fated for an early death.

This is where the difference between loneliness and solitude comes into play.

What’s Solitude?

While loneliness is an awful feeling, solitude is a choice.

It’s being alone, and being happy about it.

While loneliness is so bad that researchers find it a more significant health threat than obesity; solitude has immense benefits.

Among other things, solitude increases self-awareness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, and promotes relaxation.

So how do you move from loneliness into solitude?

How to go From Loneliness to Solitude

I used to hate being alone, especially the idea of doing things in public alone, like going out to eat.

So I always surrounded myself with people.

A year ago, I spent six months in a new state and then one month in a new country where I knew no one but my boyfriend.

And while we spent most of our time together, I started experiencing being alone.

At first, it was sad and weird – I was feeling lonely. But after some adjustments, I couldn’t believe I had missed out on solitude for so long.

Now, I love the moments (that grow rarer and rarer) where I get to be completely alone.

You can make this shift and reap the benefits yourself. Here’s how:

1. Connect With Nature

One of the ultimate cures of loneliness is spending time in nature.

Whether you’re embracing being alone or are having a day when your friends and family aren’t around, stepping out into nature will melt away any loneliness and turn it into solitude.

You can even choose an outdoor space that others frequent, like a hiking trail or dog park for a little social interaction.

It’s a lot harder to feel lonely when you’re immersed in the beauty of nature, and if you feel weird about venturing on public activities alone, nature is a great place to start. Not that it matters, but as far as social stigmas go solo walks or hikes are pretty “normal.”

Plus, spending time in nature leads to better overall health. It reduces stress, and the risks of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, and high blood pressure, among other benefits.

2. Do What You Love

When you’re with other people, often what you can do is restricted.

Don’t get me wrong, having other people in your life and doing things with them is important too, but more on that later.

The point is when you have time alone you can quickly shrug off the feeling of loneliness by filling your time with activities you love – things that make you happy.

Read a book, cook your favorite meals, paint, listen to inspiring podcasts or Ted Talks, practice your favorite self-care rituals, etc.

Doing what you love will quickly turn loneliness into solitude, and leave you cherishing your time spent alone. Plus, time really does pass by faster when you’re having fun.

And if you have loads of alone time on your hands and need a change, learn something new.

Find a new hobby, learn a new language, start or grow a side hustle.

3. Change Your Mindset

Positive thoughts are powerful. I know it’s easy to roll your eyes at that and shrug it off as some overly spiritual self-help.

But just put your skepticism aside for a second, because even scientific research backs it up.

Positive thoughts have been proven to reduce anxiety and the risk of premature death.

So the next time you feel loneliness creep in, change your thoughts.

Instead of “I’m lonely because no one gets me” or “there must be something wrong with me” think “I’m choosing to be alone” or “I’m spending time with myself because I’m great company.”

And, if being alone isn’t a choice right now, remind yourself that it’s not infinite. There are over 7 billion people in the world, and you will find your tribe, and your aloneness will not be permanent.

4. Spend Time Alone…Like Really Alone

When you’re alone, are you actually alone? Or are you scrolling through your social media feeds and viewing everyone’s Instagram stories?

Heavy use of social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can result in greater feelings of social isolation.

So when you find yourself alone, whether intentionally or not, disconnect from social media and take the time to be alone and connect with yourself.

5. Embrace the Silence…Eventually

One of the most significant benefits of solitude is increased self-awareness, and in many ways, this comes from embracing silence.

I know – silence can be awkward. But when you’re fully connected and comfortable with yourself, there’s nothing weird about silence.

Fully embracing silence takes time. If the idea of a 30-minute silent meditation sounds impossible, the good news is you can start small and eventually embracing silence will become second nature.

So start small and do one thing every day in silence. It can be just a few minutes of drinking your morning coffee or tea in quiet reflection or ditching your headphones on your next hike.

A Balancing Act

I’ve focused a lot on the power of solitude in this article – because it’s a big deal. You are important, so you should know how to spend time with just you and enjoy it – how to be in solitude and not loneliness.

But as with all things in life, it’s about balance.

Connecting with other people is part of a healthy and fulfilled life too.

Research in blue zones, the areas where people live much longer than average, has found that what these people do better than the rest of us – is socializing (real-life socializing).

Psychologists Susan Pinker visited one of these areas, and in her Ted Talk, she explains the fascinating impact that socialization can have on living to 100 and beyond.

If you live a life of solitude – for example living alone, this doesn’t mean you have to rush out and find a roommate. But taking the time out to visit your local coffee shop or joining an exercise class can provide a dose of healthy socializing.

Making Loneliness a Thing of The Past

Everyone who has been alive has felt loneliness at least once, but this feeling doesn’t have to be the norm. Through connecting with yourself and understanding solitude, you never have to linger in the feeling of loneliness again.

The tips in this article will have you well on your way to the joys of solitude, and leaving the pain of loneliness in the past.

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