How to Make the Most Out of Loneliness
King Solomon, considered by some to be the wisest man of the ancient world, said:
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, New Living Translation)
Sometimes we have control over the seasons of our lives, but sometimes the seasons surprise us and we don’t know how long their duration will be. Seasons that involve loss or longing are uncomfortable at best, and can also quite painful. While many aspects of our seasons may be out of our control, we do have control over how we react to our situation, minute-by-minute, day-by-day.
What Is Loneliness?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines loneliness as a feeling of dejection or depression caused by the awareness of being alone.
People often assume that loneliness is caused by social isolation, living alone, or being single for too long, but loneliness is not that cut and dry. In reality, if you feel that the quality and quantity of the human connections you desire are not being fulfilled, you are likely experiencing some level of loneliness.
Some people experience loneliness in the absence of a significant other, but a recent survey revealed that loneliness is high among married couples as well (Winch, 2013). And, ironically, despite the world being more connected than ever through technology, those who spend a lot of time on the internet report more feelings of loneliness than do people who spend small amounts of time online (Puri & Sharma, 2016). Additionally, those who feel like they fit in with any groups of people they desire to fit in with also experience loneliness. And those who tend to compare their lives with the lives of others also experience loneliness and disconnection.
In short, loneliness is subjective and wears many masks. People experience it differently at different times in their lives and for different reasons. But loneliness is a temporary season, like all the other seasons of life. How we react to it while we’re experiencing it matters.
We Have Control Even When We Think We Don't
Loneliness is a feeling. It can be very real, powerful, and overwhelming at times—but still, it is just a feeling. Feelings can change as quickly and often as the wind changes directions. As such, we have the power to make our loneliness work for us instead of against us by using it as a conscious exercise in self-reflection.
Now is the time to filter out the noise and seek clarity on the important aspects of our life. We can and should seek to identify why we feel lonely. Are we in a relationship we should not be in? Are we estranged from people we love? Are our friendships of low quality or, dare I say, with people of low quality? Do we have hundreds or thousands of “friends” on social networking sites, but not one real friend who enhances our life? Are we without a confidante, a life companion? Have we lost someone who was a powerful staple in our life, a part of our every day? Do we perceive that everyone else has valuable connections with others that we do not have? When we have identified the ‘why’, we are better able to determine whether we have control to change the situation.
When I was in a season of loneliness, I realized during my time of self-reflection that I felt most lonely immediately before, during, and immediately after spending any time at all (whether short or long) on social networking websites. I could not pinpoint why my loneliness was connected to social networking, but I knew that it was. I knew also that I was in control of that and I had the power to change it for myself. It was an uncomfortable action to take, but I deleted my pages. I believed I needed to take that step for myself for my own wellbeing, so I did.
Naturally, I immediately felt more disconnected than ever and I found myself habitually picking up my phone to refresh pages that no longer existed. I was a little distraught at my decision even while experiencing the instant freedom of having severed the noise from my life that was causing daily feelings of dejection and discontent.
However, within a couple days I felt liberated and absolutely unapologetic for my decision, and I have not returned to the sites. That is what I needed to do for my life. What do you need to do for yours?
May As Well Be Good At It
Of course, when I say "may as well be good at at", I mean it in a very tongue-in-cheek way. I have never met anyone who actually strives to get good at loneliness. We seek, and rightfully so, to overcome loneliness and live fulfilled and happy lives. But if our time in self-reflection reveals that our loneliness is caused by events outside of our control, we do still have a choice in the matter. We have control over how we choose to react to our circumstances. And in this regard, we may as well make the most of it and make something good of it. If we accept that we are in a season of loneliness, we can place hope in the likelihood that the circumstances will change, just as seasons change. What we choose to do in our season of loneliness can have a profound impact on our life. Again, now is the time for clarity, to take a look at our priorities, line them up, honestly scrutinize them, and make changes as needed wherever we have the power to do so. Now is the time to embrace solitude and use it to our advantage, allowing it to lead us to the clarity we need and away from useless distractions. Now is the time to pursue positive productivity and creativity, to learn and grow. This is also a time to be careful, to be wary of busyness and deflection, the things we are tempted to do when we feel lonely and want to fill the void with any distractions we can.
Loneliness has the potential to destroy, but to a self-aware and determined person, it also has the potential to develop strength of character and grit. A season of loneliness is a season of opportunity if we choose to see it that way. We have a choice in the matter. We can own it. We can take the restlessness and let it fuel creativity and progress in something we know we need to do. We can enter the void and seek purpose in it instead of running from it or distracting ourselves from it. We can seize independence in the absence of the co-dependence we came to know and rely on. We can focus on positive things outside of ourselves like helping others and being happy for their success while we pursue our own path in life. Indeed, if we are going to be lonely (because that is the season we have been dealt), we may as well be good at it.
- Loneliness is subjective and different for everyone. It can be short-lived or seem like an eternity. You can be alone or surrounded by people, successful or unsuccessful, popular or unpopular, attractive or unattractive, single or in a relationship, busy or bored, young or old, connected or unconnected and experience loneliness as if you were the only living person on earth.
- Loneliness is a temporary season, like any of life's seasons. How we react to loneliness can prolong or exacerbate the feelings of dejection and discontent we have or it can put us on the path of healing.
- Identifying the source(s) of loneliness is the first step to either taking control or accepting the circumstances of the season.
- Positive growth vs. distraction are two choices we have when we are lonely. Many people distract themselves from the discomfort and pain of loneliness, but others use it to learn and grow. Either way, a decision is made.
Puri, A., & Sharma, R. (2016). Internet usage, depression, social isolation and loneliness amongst adolescents. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 7(10), 996-1003.
The Holy Bible New Living Translation. (2007). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, IL.
Winch, G. (2013). Together but still lonely: 3 ways to connect with the distant person next to you on the couch. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201306/together-still-lonely