Monday, October 8, 2007

NPR - Being alone

I read about the recent research on loneliness and the immune system where the reseachers found it's partly genetic - loneliness that is, and it inhibits the immune system to fight diseases and illnesses. That's somewhat known, but the genetic part isn't. But that said, and before you confuse the two, loneliness is not the same as aloneness. To borrow a quote, "The difference between aloneness and loneliness is like being broke and being poor."

The writer Anneli Rufus has a great book on the subject, "Party of One". You can find more about Anneli at Wikipedia. Her book examines and explains people who like to live and be alone. It's their nature and it's not abnormal, and in fact, many loners in history have made significant contributions to the rest of the world. For you see, many activities, like writing, photography, and so on requires people work alone and be comfortable with and in themselves being alone.

I write this because the confusion still shows up in the news and people still seem to be getting it wrong. The life of an alone person has many advantages.

Life. Many people like living alone. We've all read the studies of single people and we've all read the psychologists preach it's unhealthy and single people really want the comfort of companionship. In short, they're selling hype to sell books. The percentage of single people has been increasing for the last 20+ years, and very few seem to regret their choices. It's the freedom that being and living alone provides people.

People. We all interact and engage people in our lives. It's the reality of being in the world. Whether it's work and life around work, or your life, even if you're independent and just go through life living and working. We can't survive anymore without meeting people in the ordinary events and places in life. Alone people aren't any different, people are just as important in our lives as anyone else's life. It's just they don't feel adicted to have the around all the time.

Friends. No one doubts friends are nice to have. But sheer numbers of friends doesn't make you a better person, it's also the quality of those friends. Some people just like a few good friends they know and trust. They don't mind social situations, but often talk to just a few or migrate to a less crowded area of the party or scene. It's their nature, they're satisfied and comfortable, so don't fret over them.

Loved ones. All alone people have had loved ones in their life or have loved others throughout their life. They're no different in that respect, it's as long as they understand their aloneness. And some people find that a strong value in a relationship, so they can focus on the things important in their life without the guilt of the other person(s) feeling left out or lonely. It benefits both in the relationship.

Ok, enough about the what in the person's world, how about the person?

Being. This is the tough one since being is simply being comfortable in, with and by yourself. Yet, many people have the internal makeup that either crave or need company or companionship. Being alone is something they dread or fear. Most people don't mind being alone for periods of time, but usually not for long. And some at the opposite end of the spectrum prefer being alone. We're all part of the human diversity and eveyone is normal.

Doing. This is the other half of being. We are and we do. It's that simple, most of the time. Other things get in the way, but this is about who we go through life. Many professions, endeavors and activities require people being alone while they work, it's just some prefer to do this for almost everything they do that doesn't require human interaction. And as noted, creativity often requires it.

Personality and temperament. These and genes are the factors that determine comfortableness when being alone, from being totally comfortable to terribly lonely when being alone. Despite what many may think, it's not about confidence, in fact probably the opposite. Being alone requires the confidence to believe in yourself by yourself. There are some people who will challenge themselves to do something alone, but alone people don't necessarily need the challenge. It's a part of them.

And how it's sometimes seen or expressed?

Creativity. Many people are far more creative by themselves, just letting their minds wonder and wander, to see all the iterations and follow all the paths of ideas. This doesn't mean they don't like to talk with others, to hear the ideas, views and experiences of others, to add to the whole of ideas and to bounce their thoughts or ideas off others. It's just they trust themselves. Sometimes it's not productive, but then innovation isn't efficient or always effective, but in the end, it usually produces.

Silence. Don't confuse people being silent with wanting to be alone. The ability to desire to converse and ability to easily converse with others is a personality trait. Many alone people are easy to meet and greet, and have conversations with. Most, however, hold the more serious ones to their close friends. You might find many alone people have interesting views and insights into the world, often with a quirky sense of humor.

So, in the end, if you see someone alone, don't assume they're lonely. They may just like being alone. And if you think they want to be alone, maybe they like the conversation, they just like going home alone afterward. And if you like their company and companionship, be patient and understanding. Something everyone wants out of life.

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