The joy of solitude
In our constantly connected world, it’s often seen as sad or antisocial to seek solitude. But being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. In fact, there are a number of studies that suggest spending time alone can be good for our bodies and minds.
Relax and reflect
An Australian study by La Trobe University found that people who spent time alone in the wilderness experienced increased focus, relaxation, honesty and empathy. The participants in the study were keen to continue these periods of being alone in nature, even after the study had concluded. Taking time away from people, technology and other distractions can give you time to clear your mind and reconnect with yourself on a deeper level.
Gregory Feist1, associate professor of psychology at San Jose State University in California found that when we are alone, our brains have the space to organise and settle our thoughts, which allows us to create new solutions or ideas. This may be why people are often more creative when they are alone. However, we don’t have to be physically alone to get these benefits. Feist found that even letting our minds wander away from the people and things around us allows us to gain the benefits of solitude.
It seems that being alone may also improve our memory. Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, a leader in the world of positive psychology, is currently undergoing an interesting study <http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~socsci/BLISS2013Projects.html> that suggests memories are formed more effectively when people believe they’re experiencing something by themselves, rather than with someone else. This may be why we experience movies differently when we’re watching them with friends—rather than focusing on our enjoyment of the film, we are conscious of our reactions to scenes and spend more time thinking about how we’ll talk about the movie afterwards.
Support emotional health
Even if you don’t enjoy the time you spend alone, you may still gain the benefits. One study found that despite not being happier when they were on their own, teenagers who spent about a quarter of their downtime alone were better adjusted emotionally, more successful in school and less likely to self-report depression.
Finding a balance
Of course, a period of solitude is very different from an extended sense of isolation or loneliness, which can have negative effects on your health. It’s about finding a balance that’s right for you. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts believe that being alone offers the most benefits when it’s your choice.
So if you need time to retreat, reboot and reconnect with yourself, spend some time alone—it may make all the difference.
Do you enjoy spending time alone?
 Feist, G. J. (2008), The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind, Yale University Press, USA