It was no coincidence that Dharma's message was about loneliness. He has this mysterious way of knowing what his students need and then delivering a lesson that perfectly tailored for the situation. As we sat down to our meal, Dharma began with this, "Tadpole, it's only when a frog spends time in solitude that he can hear the truth life reveal to him as it stands knocking on the doorstep of his heart. My boy, I know that science is important to you, that you prefer to have statements backed up by research. So with that in my head, I found dug around and found some amazing new insights about loneliness and well being that is backed up by scientific research. Shall we begin?" Yes, Sir. I'm all ears."
In July of this year, researchers from 60 countries gathered in Melbourne, Australia to share cutting-edge research on the science of well-being. Their findings add depth and complexity to the world's understanding of the major keys to a flourishing life. Researchers addressed, among other topics, modern obstacles to happiness—from the way we’re hooked on technology to a widespread sense of disconnection and loneliness. One of the most striking findings was on the subject of positive loneliness.
We all know that social connections play a huge role in our happiness. Connecting with family and friends is central to our sense of belonging and connection. "For many of us, frogs and humans alike,, feeling separated from others of our kind translates into a sense of loneliness and disconnection. But does solitude have to be a negative experience? Can time alone feed our well-being?" "It doesn't feel that way, Dharma," I replied, "Will you please tell me the answer and how I can best take advantage of my time alone without sitting here on my pity pot?"
"Positive loneliness is sometimes referred to as productive loneliness. Irwin, and is in complete contrast to the angst-inducing kind of solitude that makes us feel all alone and abandoned. Productive solitude doesn’t occur because we feel disconnected from others; it’s something that we deliberately seek out. Rather than being lonely or ruminating on negative experiences, we use the solitary time for contemplation, reflection, or creativity. Don't you prefer quiet solitude when you're writing?" Yes, Sir, indeed I do." I hadn't thought about it that way before, but I don't work well with others around.
Dharma continued. "I thought so, my boy. Those who experience positive solitude tend to feel more positive emotions—in particular, the low-energy ones like relaxation and calm. According to research by Leontiev, when these people do find themselves alone, they have a greater sense of pleasure and meaning—and less of a sense of void. Who most enjoys their alone time? Positive solitude seems to come more naturally to those who are more introverted or higher in emotional and psychological maturity." I don't know if I fall into either of those categories, Dharma, but I do know that I am at my creative best early in the morning when the swamp hasn't yet come alive. But what about frogs who aren't like me? How can they benefit from their solitude?"
"That's an excellent question. Those who are more extroverted and gregarious might see more benefit in solitude if they deliberately scheduled alone time for doing something they enjoy, for example, or they could spend their solitary time in the peaceful and welcoming setting of nature. Being out in nature has a way of letting us see things more clearly. And future research may uncover other ways for all of us to cultivate new attitudes toward solitude so we can appreciate it more—and be happier for it."
Dharma continued my lesson by offering a few additional tips for making the most of our time alone.
1. Get emotionally on-board with your alone-ness. Once you accept it and see it as a benefit, it becomes less threatening and more like a gift.
2. Develop a relationship with yourself. take this time alone to get to know who you are and what you want out of life. The familiar adage that “the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself” will never ring truer than when you’re in a period of alone-ness. To strengthen your relationship with yourself, make an effort to get to know yourself better. Ask yourself: What do I value in life? What do I need more of? What do I need to be done with? What’s next for me? Take some time and think about your answers to these questions. You'll be glad you did.
3. Let your passions run free. Use your free time to do the things you love. Perhaps you have passions that others in your life don't share. If so, then this is your time to allow your passions (whatever they are) run free.
4. Make plans with yourself. Send yourself an email asking yourself out on a date. Spend your date-time doing the things you love. Treat yourself to a movie, cook yourself an amazing meal (then you can later brag to your friends about what they missed), or luxuriate in a bubble bath with a good cup of tea and a special book. (It's okay if you want to substitute wine for tea. I won't tell.)
As we sipped the last of our tea, Dharma's final message to me on positive alone time was about making ourselves proud. "One of the beauties of being alone is that you can live by your personal standards. When you’re not beholden to others, it’s easier to stop living by their expectations of what you should be doing. This creates an opportunity to get clear on what you really – in your heart – expect from yourself. Knowing what you expect from yourself allows you to start putting these expectations into action. With some effort, you can meet YOUR expectations and make yourself proud.
Dharma's lesson today was long but, as always, his timing was impeccable. I needed to hear everything he had to say. Maybe you do, too. Today, I am vowing to turn over a new leaf, to enjoy my occasional alone time and put it to good use. My bedroom could use a little sprucing up and today's the day, I'll start that project.
Thank you, Dharma, for your inspiration.
Please drop by tomorrow. I have a special blog planned in celebration of National Tooth Fairy Day. Until then,