Issue #10: Belonging and Solitude

This notion that we humans are social creatures has never felt so true as it has over the last week with physical distancing becoming the norm for millions of people across several countries. And the needs of one key social group have also come to the forefront. Of the 79 million households in the United States counted in 2018, over 40 percent (34.05 million) consist of a single person. It’s easy to assume that living in alone explains the loneliness epidemic, While many articles and research studies have chronicled the health impacts of loneliness, we also know that people can have all of the trappings of social support and connection but still feel lonely. And people can spend vast amounts of time alone, and feel at peace and fulfilled.

If loneliness is the feeling of not belonging, then what is solitude?

Connection to your inner voice, your intuition, your inner dialogue, whatever name that you want to put to the feeling of belonging to yourself is enabled by solitude. I used to use busyness to avoid solitude. I’m an extreme extrovert who loves to travel. Even though I’m sheltering in place with my boyfriend, I still feel the pressure and anxiety of more solitude than I’m accustomed to. And I’ve heard from other friends that there is a similar kind of anxiety, whether they are physically living alone or feeling the painful absence of the social connections they had in more normal times. And I’ve also heard from friends who are parents that the lack of solitude is driving them a bit crazy.

And much like we need belonging in other social groups, to other identities, communities and networks, we also need the belonging to ourselves that comes from solitude.

Mental strength expert Amy Morin outlines seven evidence-based reasons that we could all use more solitude:

  1. Increased empathy

  2. Increased productivity

  3. Increased creativity

  4. Greater mental strength (ie. more happiness, life satisfaction, improved stress management and less depression)

  5. Fewer behavioral issues for kids

  6. Space to plan your life: goals, progress, and changes

  7. Increased self awareness and self-knowledge

To explore some of the ways that we can all learn to seek and enjoy more solitude, I’m leading a session with The Grand entitled Gaining Self-Awareness in a Time of Solitude on April 2 at 5:30 pm PT. Register today if you would like to join me.

Trends shaping belonging to self

The body positivity movement began as a way to not only just shift societal fatphobia but also foster greater self-acceptance and self-confidence for individuals who felt that their bodies were dissatisfactory. This shift in self-perception has been instrumental in addressing diagnosable health issues like body dysmorphia and eating disorders and general life improvements by moving away from the scale as a measure of self-worth to a more holistic perspective. But an emerging backlash against body positivity criticizes the movement for going too far. Whether it’s corporations touting their body acceptance bonafides while still engaging in manipulative advertising or making the work of body confidence an individual endeavor in the face of systemic bias and stigma, our physical bodies are a battleground for defining belonging to ourselves.

The widespread popularity and commercialization is one way that we have commoditized belonging to self. With apps like Headspace and Calm, we have on-demand access to the keys to our own minds 24/7. CEOs like Jack Dorsey tout the transformational benefits of 10 day silent retreats to lifehack their way to hyperproductivity rather than increase happiness or life satisfaction. In the rush to quantify our health, we relinquish the data that characterizes our bodies and our thoughts in return for promised knowledge that will improve our lives and satisfaction through digital phenotyping.

With audio, video, and photo deepfakes, we can create extensions of our physical selves as our digital selves that belong to us. Of course, this also mean that anyone can do the same for themselves or someone who is not themselves as well. The power to imitate and replicate our likeness illuminates how consent and control must be defined and negotiated to understand and preserve the authentic self.

Questions to investigate

  1. In an increasingly volatile world where attention is in increasing demand, how and where can we carve out space for solitude?

  2. How will bias and stigma be encoded in the future?

  3. How do we define authenticity and integrity with ourselves when we can divide and spread ourselves infinitely in digital and virtual environments?

  4. Are there ways of sharing the burden of learning to belong to ourselves collectively? If so, what are those approaches?