It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“An emerging body of research is suggesting that spending time alone, if done right, can be good for us — that certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around, and that even the most socially motivated among us should regularly be taking time to ourselves if we want to have fully developed personalities, and be capable of focus and creative thinking. There is even research to suggest that blocking off enough alone time is an important component of a well-functioning social life — that if we want to get the most out of the time we spend with people, we should make sure we’re spending enough of it away from them.” (“The Power of Lonely,” The Boston Globe 3/6/2011)
For someone who writes a daily blog about making friends, I actually quite enjoy—and am completely comfortable with—alone time. I learned to appreciate time by myself when I was 20 years old, doing an internship in San Francisco for a semester.
Forget having a local BFF. In San Fran I didn’t even have a local F.
These were the three months in which I fell in love with yoga, and the classes kept many of my weeknights busy. On weekends I would pick up my book-of-the-moment and make my way to the local make-your-own-salad place, settle in, eat alone, read, and people watch.
It was a definite time of growth for me, and the period during which I learned the difference between being lonely and being alone. As professor John Cacioppo says in this article, “People make this error, thinking that being alone means being lonely, and not being alone means being with other people. You need to be able to recharge on your own sometimes.”
According to the studies cited in this article, “people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone.” Solitude can also make people “more capable of empathy towards others,” and help “teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.” Researchers also found that people feel good about being alone more often than they feel bad about it, it’s just that most of the solitude spotlight is focused on loneliness.
These days, when I have a few hours to myself, I most definitely feel good about it. But back in the days before this friend search, when I felt at a serious loss for local close friends to call for a playdate? I felt crummy. As is mentioned in this article, it’s a lot easier to handle being alone when it is a choice, rather than a state you’re forced into for lack of companions.
Solitude can also help us think more creatively. “When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.” For me, this is the kind of critical thinking that happens in the shower, the car, or on the treadmill. (Does that happen to you? I do all my best thinking in the shower. I come up with my most interesting ideas, I remember things I wanted to add to my to-do list, but by the time I make it to my computer… Poof! They’ve vanished. So frustrating!)
The moral of this story is nothing new. It’s the buzzword of the century: Balance. Carving out some alone time for yourself—and, again, this really only applies to solitude by choice—will help you reboot and be even more BFF-ready when you find her.
Thoughts? Do you see the benefits of alone time? And the difference between being alone and being lonely? Discuss.