woman sitting at the edge of mountain

Alone Hobbies

AKA: Solitary Hobbies, Solo Hobbies.

On the benefits of spending time alone, and hobbies to take us beyond boredom and anxiety in solitude.

In a nutshell:

  • Solitude is viewed negatively as a state to avoid.
  • Despite its reputation, solitude is beneficial.
  • Despite its benefits, solitude can be difficult, as it can induce anxiety and boredom.
  • Hobbies can help us avoid anxiety and boredom when spending time alone.
  • Hobbies can also induce a flow state, to take us even further beyond boredom and anxiety.
  • For some of us, spending time alone is a necessity.

Solitude is stigmatized

Humans have long stigmatized solitude. It has been considered an inconvenience, something to avoid, a punishment, a realm of loners.

The Psychological Benefits of Being Alone – The Atlantic

This prejudice, like other inaccurate and misleading ones, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks:

[…] man is by nature a political animal.

Aristotle, The Politics

The Greek πολιτικόν, translated here as political, is sometimes translated as social. This is the source of a common saying: “Man is a social animal”.

Aristotle also writes:

[…] he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god […]

Aristotle, The Politics

This is later paraphrased by Francis Bacon:

Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.

Francis Bacon, On Friendship

According to Bacon, anyone who enjoys spending time alone and does not consider themselves a god is forced to see themselves as a beast.

But there are those who think differently:

A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims

Despite its stigma, solitude is beneficial

Despite its bad reputation, solitude can be highly beneficial.

Research reveals solitude can increase empathy and productivity, spark creativity, and build mental strength.

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required.

Isaac Asimov

Solitude can even improve our social relationships, despite the apparent contradiction, as it can promote a greater sense of intimacy or connectedness with others.

For solitude sometimes is best society,
And short retirement urges sweet return.

John Milton, Paradise Lost

Without solitude, Love will not stay long by your side.

Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra

Spending time alone can be difficult

As beneficial as it can be, solitude can be difficult.

[Solitude is] a medicine which tastes bad, but leaves one more healthy in the long run.

Larson, R. and Csikszentmihalyi, M., Experiential correlates of time alone in adolescence

There are a few possible reasons for the bad taste alone time can sometimes take.

The first reason might be the stigma mentioned above: when we are alone we feel uncool. This is paradoxical, as being cool can be defined as being self-sufficient, and self-sufficiency is the core of solitude.

Solitude is non-communication, the absence of others, the presence of a self sufficient to itself.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

Another reason for the difficulty of solitude is that it regulates our emotions, and gives us time to think.

[…] solitude generally has a deactivation effect on people’s affective experiences, decreasing both positive and negative high-arousal affects.

Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-Regulation – Thuy-vy T. Nguyen, Richard M. Ryan, Edward L. Deci | Sage

Once regulated, our minds tend to enter one of two states or both: anxiety and boredom.

Solitude is the mother of anxieties.

Publilius Syrus, Moral Sayings

Anxiety rises in solitude probably because in our day-to-day lives we are too busy and distracted to confront our issues.

[…] when we are finally alone and our attention becomes inner-directed, the emotions, memories, or problems we have been suppressing suddenly rise to the surface.

Solitude as Medicine | Psychology Today

Thinking about it this way, letting our emotions surface is probably a good thing, as repressed feelings aren’t great for our mental health.

Solitude is the place of purification.

Martin Buber, I and Thou

Every once in a while, our minds should be pruned and purified.

Solitude is a silent storm that breaks down all our dead branches; Yet it sends our living roots deeper into the living heart of the living earth.

Kahlil Gibran, Sand & Foam

As mentioned, boredom is another possible state for a regulated mind. Boredom, as solitude, is usually discriminated against and generally viewed as an unpleasant emotional state.

If boredom is unpleasant, it is probably either because the belief that we must always be productive is ingrained in us, or because we are addicted to stimulation.

 It’s like an addiction where we need more and more intense stimulation to fight boredom.

5 Benefits of Boredom | Psychology Today

While in fact, boredom can be beneficial and good for us. Some cultures actually praise boredom. The Dutch term Niksen “literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use“.

The concept of Niksen is related to meditation, which is one way to harness the benefits of solitude.

Another way is hobbies.

With hobbies, we can enjoy solitude, and flow BEYOND boredom and anxiety

By pursuing a hobby on our own, we can relax, regulate our emotions, and contemplate our issues, while still being occupied enough (by something without any productive goal) not to fall into boredom and anxiety.

Hobbies can also induce a flow state.

In his book Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first named the flow state and defined it as “the holistic sensation that people feel when they act with total involvement”.

Hobbies can also change the way others judge our alone time: We are not unsocial, we are just doing our own thing.

This way, hobbies can help us enjoy solitude’s virtues while avoiding its difficulties.

Some of us might need more alone time than others

We have different needs from one another. For some of us, solitude is a necessity. This might be the case for example for highly sensitive people (HSP), who are estimated to be about 15-20% of the population.

Elaine N. Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, writes in her blog:

We, however, absolutely must, simply by our nature, have downtime to recover from overstimulation and digest our experiences, learn from them, and then move into the world again in order to reconnect with others and with our passion, our vocation.

Blog – The Highly Sensitive Person

On solitude, she writes:

I think of solitude as a special kind of downtime, in which we wait and prepare for the connection with “something deeper,” whatever that is going to be for us right now. That seems to be the way the word is used most of the time.

Blog – The Highly Sensitive Person

And indeed, dealing with society’s view on their need to be alone is one of the common struggles of highly-sensitive people.

For an HSP like me, solitude is not about loneliness or disconnection; it’s about recharging and finding peace. In the quiet moments alone, I can process the sensory and emotional experiences of the day. But here’s the catch: this preference for solitude can sometimes put us at odds with social expectations.

6 unique struggles that highly sensitive people deal with every day – Hack Spirit

To conclude, despite its bad reputation solitude is beneficial and important, even more so for some of us. Hobbies that can be done alone can help us flow beyond the boredom and anxiety induced by the initial adjustment to solitude.

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