The Hard Facts: The Benefits of Alone Time

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.


Filed under The Hard Facts

13 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Benefits of Alone Time

  1. Megan

    As an introvert, I crave alone time. I guess the concern for people like me is how much is too much alone time (even if it’s a felt-need)?

  2. Cheryl

    I’m a bit like Megan, in that I also am an introvert. I *love* alone time; my problem is that I get too happy in my “alone” space, and I forget how much fun spending time with others can be…. Then when I do remember, my re-entry is clunky!

    • Shannon

      Totally agree! If I have a week or month that is full of social events I sometimes get anxious wondering when I will be able to get that desired alone time. It’s not a reflection of what’s on the social calendar, because I really do enjoy my time with friends and time spent out of the house, but there is something so peaceful about being alone and “recharging” that I like knowing it’s there.

  3. Erica

    I definitely need time alone. Sometimes to the point that friends don’t understand when I choose staying home to take a bath and read over a night out with them. I am very outgoing, but one of the signs of an extrovert is that you are recharged by being with people. This was a wake up call to me, since I always thought I was an extrovert. But according to this definition I am not!
    And yes, my best thinking always happens while running or swimming.

  4. San

    I crave alone time on a regular basis. I want to say, sometimes I need it more than anything else. There is a comfort in knowing that you can be totally happy and content just being with yourself.

  5. Like your other commenters, I also need my time alone. As for the difference between lonely and alone, I think it has to do with choice. When alone-ness is not a choice it quickly becomes lonely.

  6. I agree with basically everything being said. I tend to be an introvert – even when out in big crowds I tend to be more of a watcher/listener/observer than a jump in active participant (but do still participate). And it is most definitely true that making the choice to stay alone is COMPLETELY different than a forced alone (loneliness) time because you have no one to do anything with.

  7. diana

    am totally an introvert…but i would agree that when you are alone by choice you tend to feel better…when it’s not by choice i tend to start having those “everyone is out at a party except for me” thoughts!

  8. If I don’t get some alone time in, I feel overwhelmed. It’s a definite must.

  9. Lorrie Paige

    The best time for my critical thinking is when I’m lying in bed at night before I go to sleep and when I’m about to get up out of bed in the morning.

    Anyone that has been reading my blog this year knows that this topic for me is a given. I recently had an “A ha!” experience that made me truly realize that never-mind about some “alone-time”. I am really a loner!

    It saddens me that many people in the world are embarrassed to say that they are a loner, for fear of thinking people will feel sorry for them or thinking they are weird I guess. But you are who you are and should be proud of yourself.

    I guess deep down, I’ve always known that I was a true loner after going so many years (roughly about 35 years of not having ANY platonic friends–as in for instance no one to call up and invite to go out in a casual manner). Not since high school, and because of my past strict religious upbringing, I couldn’t get really close for any high school friendships to hold beyond school.

    So throughout those years, I’ve tried but with I’m not interested in them or they are not interested in me, we are both not interested in each other, and the pains of trying and trying to make friends, I realized that I love going out alone and really have fun being by myself, when I’m not with my boyfriend, and that it FINALLY has struck me that, hey, life is meant to be easy. Really. It’s us that makes it hard. We get in our own way of contentment and happiness. The hard part is knowing yourself real well and going with the flow of nature and not fighting what you’re born to be (or do) in life.

    To be honest, after truly realizing this, topics and books on friendship no longer speaks to me. I’ve given my books on friendship away (Except for my Sex and the City Kiss and Tell–I still love SATC, but now it doesn’t mean as much to me and I look at it as about others’ lives and not the kind of life for me. Plus, I’ve done a ton of research on friendship for the past 30+ years so it’s time to move on.)

    So “alone-time” for me? Hell yeah! Interestingly, my boyfriend is also a loner–since he was a little boy. He does have a few friends, but they all live far from him, which is fine to him. He communicates with them once in a while via Internet and phone. There are different degrees of being a loner, and I’m still studying those degrees and posting them on my blog on a regular basis.

    Mind you, I have nothing at all against friendship. I think it’s fabulous!!!! But not for me really. Maybe I’ll make a platonic F or even a BFF before I die, but if I don’t, it’s fine with me. I’m having fun in my life anyway. I’ll still talk about friendship in my blog but not nearly as much. Boy have I changed! Hahaha! But there is a relief now of realizing what kind of person I am. No more trying to be and get something in my life that isn’t right for me. Yes, it’s a relief. Phew!

  10. Janet

    While I am not adding anything cerebral to this thread, I have a suggestion for remembering thoughts which surface in the shower – kids’ bathtub crayons!
    Write your notes out of the water’s reach and rub off with a wet cloth after you’ve transferred your brilliant insights.
    (Words of warning: Check for staining on a hidden-ish spot first.)

  11. TC

    I love being by myself, until I crave human contact and want to be around people. A lot of things I like to do are solo activities…like reading, watching tv/movies, shopping, etc. I need to recharge often particularly after a group outing. I get called out by friends as being a bore since I’m such a homebody, but it’s no worries. When I force myself to be social and I’m not in the mood to be, everyone suffers. I have a too expressive face that lets anyone and everyone know that I wish I were elsewhere. So I’ve learned to do me and let my friends do them. Though when I’m at my most social peak, I then have no invites! Life’s funny like that.

  12. Pingback: How This Friendship Happened… | MWF Seeking BFF

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s