Megan writes a little bit about being single, and I want to expand on that and talk about being alone.

For most people, it isn't easy being alone. I'm not talking about being in a romantic relationship or having plenty of friends and family, I'm talking about being able to be content without anyone else around to entertain you.

Being alone can often cause depression, and the typical, modern source of comfort for both aloneness and depression is television. TV may distract you from the fact that you're alone, but it doesn't actually relieve the depression. Reading books and surfing the web fit into a similar category, in my opinion, and are neither substitutes for actual human interaction, nor healthy coping strategies for feelings of loneliness. All three of these -- TV, books, the internet -- relieve aloneness by providing a false sense of presence. None of them is bad, but using any of them as an emotional crutch can cause you to miss out on one of the greatest, most empowering feelings imaginable: being totally alone, and perfectly content.

Being able to be comfortable while alone is one of the most difficult abilities to acquire in life, and many people never achieve it, or even think about it. Most people are constantly seeking affirmation, approval, attention, compassion, empathy, and community with others -- these can all be positive and enjoyable, but addiction to other people is a weakness and a vulnerability.

If you ever watch children interacting with each other, it's easy to notice how dependent they are on the opinions of their peers. Adults are no different; perhaps a bit more subtle, but a keen observer will see the same desires at work: needs for power, affection, and attention. For kids it may be toys, for adolescents it may be clothes, and for adults it may be jobs, cars, houses, or fame. People who derive their self-worth from the opinions of others are easy to manipulate, rarely satisfied no matter what their circumstances, and ill-at-ease when they're alone.

So how does one become comfortable with just oneself? It's not easy. For me, I'm never really alone because I always have God with me. Is my belief in God merely another emotional crutch, akin to television and the like? Some would certainly make that argument. However, it's largely pointless for me to discuss, since if my beliefs are correct then there isn't any way for me to escape God even if I wanted to. If my beliefs are wrong, then deluding myself as a way of coping with aloneness is the least of my problems. And anyway, I know plenty of Christians who can't stand to be alone, despite their belief that God is with them.

So if television, books, and the internet are mere distractions, what is a worthy occupation for alone-time? I think that constructive activities are the most beneficial, and the typical "get a hobby" advice is quite appropriate. I spend some of my alone-time working on my PhD dissertation (not enough), as well as other forms of writing (some of which gets published here). I also like to go for walks and runs around the neighborhood, and I like to lift weights. Physical activity is good for mental health, and there's no better drug than endorphins!

It's not easy to be happy and alone, but I think the effort is well-worth it (insofar as I can claim to be successful at it). For instance, there's no need to fear public speaking if you're indifferent to your audience's response! In a sense, what I'm advocating is a form of apathy, but not entirely. I often act in ways I hope will please the people around me, but I do so because I want to, not because I feel any need for their approval. My apathy frees me to act however I want to act; sometimes people like it, sometimes they don't. It's an honest, fearless way to live.

It might seem that attaining such apathetic freedom could lead to selfishness and arrogance, because the social mores that bind most people won't apply to you anymore. That appearance is deceiving. Apathy doesn't create selfishness and arrogance, it only reveals the selfishness and arrogance that were already there, hidden by social pressure. In truth, gaining the ability to be comfortable while alone will allow you to discover genuine compassion, understanding, and fellowship, by eliminating the false pretenses that dominate most peoples' lives.



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