I believe in solitude. As an only child, I’ve spent much of my life alone. And as an introvert, I like it that way.
To an extent.
Here’s the thing. Solitude can easily turn into isolation and loneliness. Those of us who feel the pull of peace and reclusivity need to be very, very careful.
For lots of years, I used seclusion as an excuse. I crawled under the proverbial covers and wished and wished for a better life, but it didn’t come.
I believe in wishing, but it’s not particularly effective if you’re not willing to take the tiniest of steps towards what you’re wishing for. The universe listens, but you have to get up off your butt.
Real-life example: I went to college for a year in Hawaii and didn’t make a single friend. NOT ONE. How is that possible?
When you tell the world you want to be alone, the world tends to listen.
I’ve done that many times, in many places and circumstances. Over and over again. I would vacillate between gregarious, outgoing Hannah and lonely, isolated Hannah. When I lived in LA, I had lots of friends and a wild social life. In New York City, I went straight home after work almost every day, alone.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to recognize the persistent lie I was telling myself.
When I started changing my life a year or so ago, I left a lot of old friendships behind. It was necessary and important, but lonely. And while I have lots of close friends in other cities and states, I wasn’t left with many in my immediate area. “I’m fine on my own,” I kept thinking and saying and trying to believe.
But it wasn’t true. I was missing a huge piece of the happiness puzzle by not making an effort to engage.
The truth is, I need people. We ALL need people. Humans are social animals. Community ties, close friendships, physical touch — we need all of these things to be happy and whole. Research supports this.
According to NPR, “Researchers have found that people are happier when they are with other people than when they are alone—and the ‘boost’ is the same for introverts and extroverts.” And there’s tons of other research by happiness pioneers Ed Diener, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph. D., Sonja Lyubormirsky and others that supports these ideas: we derive a sense of identity from community, happiness is contagious, we receive positive, lasting effects from connecting with others — and so on. Isolation leads to unhappiness and connection leads to happiness. Period.
Nowadays, I’m as social as I can stand. I go to events and networkers and I talk to people at coffee shops and I say YES to invitations. And I almost never regret it.
Even as an introvert, I’ve learned to crack myself open and let the light shine in (and right back out).
So if you’re anything like I was — a highly sensitive soul with a tendency towards hermitousness (my favorite made-up word) — now’s the time break out of your self-imposed jail cell. Throw that uncomfortably comfortable comfort zone aside and take a risk. Talk to people, open up to people, embrace people. It will change your life.
These days, I immediately recognize the negative effect too much alone time has on my mood. My perspective sinks like a stone, seemingly for no reason. I’m cranky and irritable. It happens occasionally, if I’m caught up in work and don’t leave my house.
I feel one thousand percent better when I work from Starbucks, go to meetings, talk to real people — face to face, human to human. Real people in real situations almost always surprise me with their awesomeness.
The truth is, happiness won’t find you when you’re sitting on your couch alone, no matter how many happiness blogs or self-help books or optimistic magazines you read. You need other people to achieve it.
Luckily, there are 7+ Billion of us, just standing by to lend a hand. 😉