Learn How to Be Alone; Live Your Best Life
Also published on Thought Catalog.
We live in a couple’s world, more than that really, a communal, socially intoxicated world. Being social is part of the human experience, historians and anthropologists theorize that our fiendish desire to be included in things originates from a learned evolutionary bias: if you became a social outcast during hunter-gatherer times you missed out on key communal resources and died. Therefore, those who had biological dispositions to social inclusion survived most and the genetic code was passed on with a greater emphasis.
That’s why you and I can't help but innately desire to be liked and included because our brain thinks that being included means our tribe will serve us extra gruel at lunch and maybe fight off a lion for us. But now we live in a modern world and our desire to be included is a great hindrance because our tribe is now seven billion instead of ten, and a lot of those seven billion are assholes.
That's why this piece isn’t about being liked or fighting off lions, but instead, this article is about the how and why fighting the genetic desire to be included socially through infinite isolation is a big life win.
Contradictory to our genetics, in the western world, we believe in individualism to a great extent. We get an I.D. number from our country, we get a name. If we kill someone, only we get punished and not our family. Each person gets freedoms, and certain ‘unalienable’ rights (in theory). Everyone gets to pick their spouse, their career, and they get their own house with their own room.
The many examples of our individualistic society I could list on and on. It's an exhaustive list dating back to the Roman times where our individualistic society became structured.
The contradiction in our world is fascinating. We care more about our individual identity than ever before but are increasingly subject to a world of social acceptance and group activity.
If you travel alone and book a hotel you get two beds or a bed for two. If you eat lunch alone, the server clears away the second set of utensils. If you go to see a movie alone, people ask if you’re okay. If you start a business alone, no one will invest, and if you’re single people start to force potential partners on you.
Because lord knows you can’t be happily single and alone!
Despite this world, we all still have time alone; in our room, walking to class, on a flight, or on a lazy Saturday. We love it. It’s even created trend some identify with as the “extroverted introvert.” However, most people can’t handle much time alone. It’s those same extroverted introverts who start to hyperventilate if they sit in a room alone for more than a few hours.
We call this cabin fever.
Cabin fever is the resulting emotional state we arrive at when we don’t talk to people for a long time or when we stay in one place without much external stimulation for extended periods of time. It’s a horrendous anxiety and a happens because of the expectations of social interaction we’ve built living in an oversocialized world.
A great example of this was a week ago when I saw a video viral on Facebook about a guy who locked himself in his house alone for a week. The man ensuingly cried tears, started shivering and defined his time alone as a senseless prison. I’m sure his direct family was really proud of him.
This was cabin fever, or in other words, an anxiety of the mind. From the whole ordeal, the man's takeaway was that being alone is horrible and no one should be alone.
Really, not the right lesson or takeaway at all. Yet as one would expect, hordes of internet trolls agreed and swore off isolation. Instagram will surely benefit.
Like the man in the video, our societies inability to meet itself calmly in solitude is why we have an orange popsicle as President in the United States.
Our hero and star treated his time alone as a prison sentence. Being alone is not a prison sentence. It's actually the greatest luxury we have in this thing we call life. The problem in his strategy was how quickly he transitioned from a life of addictive online socialization to complete isolation for seven days. Making a shift that drastic out of nowhere is obviously going to suck.
To enjoy the fruits of isolation, one must gradually experience isolation. There is where my personal experiences become relevant.
When I was 20, I was just like this millennial man baby on Facebook. If I was alone for one Saturday night I’d be itching for chatter like a madman. It was near unbearable cabin fever. Sitting alone in a house could become torture.
This bothered me. So one day I created an active goal to strive for: being so calm and comfortable with myself that I could spend an eternity of time alone (in a prison or on a beach) and content.
I wanted to be so mentally calm and clear that if I wanted to, in theory, I could lock myself away in jungle cabin for years and not be bothered. I wanted to reach a point where my quality of life was free of what happened in the external world.
Today, I feel like I am nearing that goal. Be it subway or beach, hostel or palace, I find a seemingly infinite degree of contentedness.
My biggest test was a month in South America alone with a zero-sum ability to speak Spanish. By day 28, I had realized I operated the trip content from start to finish. I had no urges to leave. No urges to stay. Whatever was cool. I was with myself at all times and that was enough.
Considering that I am now 24-years old, this degree of progress took me four years. And as early as of 10 months ago I was struggling with a week alone. My progress being comfortable alone was so slow I began to question if it was possible if I would ever be comfortable alone.
Slowly, it’s come together.
For others, I recommend it more than ever. The process is a day by day. I started by staying in on a Saturday night. Then a whole Saturday. I missed parties and clubbing. I missed movie nights. I battled FOMO, hard.
But over time, you start to realize staying in on a Saturday night is actually what you prefer.
As did I, I began to push myself for weekend trips to new cities alone. Flying across the country and being alone for a week in a new city. I moved to a new city. I spent weeks bumbling about looking for friends.
Then, I started to travel internationally to countries whose languages I didn’t speak. I was surrounded by people in big cities but I couldn’t communicate with anyone.
That was hard.
Eventually, through the struggles and pains, you graduate up a level and up a level.
As I went through this, I began to wonder if it was an infinite staircase of levels or if there was ever a point I’d reach a mindset that just worked everywhere and always.
I am starting to think I’ve reached that now and a lot of the inspiration for that comes from Buddhism. As a brief overview, a Buddhist philosophy posits that contentment of life is free of the pursuit of highs and lows.
Not just physical highs like having sex, partying or eating good food. It’s a freedom from the highs of non-tangible things like a compliment, having a good conversation with someone, or even thinking.
Buddhism basically says you don’t need to eat to be content, you don’t need new shoes to be content, you don’t need to think to be content, you don’t need anything external to be content. You’ve got what you need, always. Just be.
For me, this was profound and proved to be a breakthrough in my quest for isolation. What used to be challenging moments of isolation for me are now, through the lens of Buddhism, quickly satiated by the truest reminder that whatever I am craving, I don’t need.
Considering further, it obviously applies to the oversocialized world and becoming comfortable with solitude.
The crying man on Facebook could benefit. And we all could. What Buddhism helps to deliver is the thing I became in pursuit of at age 20; infinite confidence and comfort with the self.
This a paramount to a quality life. Beyond even the lavish outcomes of actually being infinitely content with yourself, we have to consider the implications this has on our behaviors throughout life.
Part of my choice to become comfortable with the self at age 20 was because it seemed absolutely ludicrous to me to start building and investing in a career when I didn’t know who I was. It seemed ludicrous to me to start building relationships with significant others, when I didn’t know who I was, when I wasn’t comfortable with who I was.
How could I expect an everlasting love if one of the two pillars of that love was still under construction? How could I build a career I love if I built a career on a personality that wasn’t really who I was?
This isn't even about the selfish benefits that come with infinite contentment, but logically it doesn’t make sense to be getting married to a person when you don’t know who you are.
These fruits are grown in isolation. Being alone forces deep thoughts to surface. Conquering isolation provides one with infinite mobility. Being happy alone lets you move cities, travel alone, take massive risks and bet the house every time because you know you always have what you need.
In this over socialized world, I urge every reader to battle your biology. Twitter isn’t building you the foundation for a career and it sure isn’t building the foundation for a marriage.
Put down the phone and get to know yourself.