Have you ever recharged your energy by just being by yourself? And more so in these times of retreat, found yourself appreciating those who are in your life as a result of your day trip alone on the hiking trail or solo shopping trip?
Continuing the brief series on the strength found in solitude, I turn once again to Cal Newport’s chapter on solitude from his 2019 book Digital Minimalism.
Newport makes note of English psychiatrist Anthony Storr’s 1988 book Solitude: A Return to the Self. Its a significant book because in Storr’s professional field, solitude and the lack of intimate connection had been wildly misunderstood for over a century. Actually, solitude for the most part was analyzed increasingly as something to correct and prescribe against. Human intimacy was elevated by other psychiatrists as the most needed thing to sustain human happiness.
Newport emphasizes Storr’s research by stating:
Storr’s conclusion is that we’re wrong to consider intimate interaction as the sine qua non of human thriving. Solitude can be just as important for both happiness and productivity (Pg 97).
Striking about this is the emphasis of solitude aiding human happiness, not diminishing it.
We don’t need to swing too far in one direction of the extremes we could picture, complete isolation from people versus always being connected to people in person or online. If we prescribe for the hermit an increase in human intimacy so they can become happier and ‘well adjusted’ based on our assumption they must be miserable on the inside, we are not taking into account the number of genius, socially adjusted, and highly satisfied people throughout history who lived what would be considered an isolated life.
Some of the greatest writers, inventors, and poets had prolonged seasons of solitude. And they were completely content with life. Happy even.
Now with technology demanding we are constantly connected 24/7 (but not successfully communicative), how then is it teen suicides are up and an entire younger generation is suffering from increased cases of anxiety? Why aren’t they happier now that they are more connected with more people than ever before?
I ask these questions in a leading fashion because this is what we are struggling to answer of our current era, if it were the case that solitude was something to cure. Or more so, that being connected with people all the time must mean greater social happiness resulting from accessing friends all the time.
Well, it turns out this is all about a lack of solitude. A lack of retreating well into who we are, resting with who we are, even in the middle of robust relationships.
This is a solitude rooted in being secure in ourselves even while being in public, on the job, with a date, or at a family reunion. It’s a strength found only from being completely well with who we are and void of comparison to others while with others in person or digitally.
From my theological worldview, this is nothing short of the exercise of accepting how much God loves us, how we are imprinted with His image, and that in a restored state we can maintain a sense of inner-solitude knowing Who made us.
It’s a solitude we are increasingly deprived of.
Happiness thus may not be occurring at the innermost, deepest levels it needs to penetrate in ourselves. We are becoming a bunch of smiling selfies while we are continually hollowed out internally.
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