A reader writes, “My son, a university student, confided to me that he has problems with loneliness. Can you comment on loneliness, coping with being alone, and finding one’s path and values in life?”
Our reader was keenly perceptive to ask about both “loneliness” and “finding one’s path” in the same question. It takes great insight to realize there is a link between both subjects. Loneliness is not a curse, but a blessing. It is the very tool that helps us discover who we are and what path to follow.
You see, our yearning to be accepted and to delight others with our presence forces us to discover where we fit in and what role to play. The purpose of loneliness is self-discovery, as was pointed out by Hermann Hesse (1877 ~ 1962) who wrote, “Loneliness is the way by which destiny endeavors to lead man to himself.” So, when we recognize the pangs of loneliness, instead of running from it, we need to ask ourselves what we can learn from it.
If we have a feeling of emptiness, it is because we are not focused on a purpose for living. It isn’t necessary to go on an endless search for meaning. All we have to do is stop, reflect, examine our interests and options, and choose a path. All paths lead to the mountaintop. As long as we are on a path, we will have a sense of direction. And all paths lead away from loneliness, for loneliness is stagnation, passivity, and inaction.
So, you see, loneliness is nothing more than a call for action. When we heed that call, we move forward. But when we refuse to act, there is the danger of prolonging our loneliness. Left untreated, we begin to feel trapped and helpless. When we continue to leave it unattended, there is a chance of slipping into chronic loneliness and depression. The message is clear: when loneliness strikes, action is called for.
Facing our loneliness and taking suitable action needs clear thinking. Unfortunately, some people are held back by distorted thinking and a negative attitude. By distorted thinking, I mean the belief that one’s loneliness is caused by an unfair world, cruel people, or tragic circumstances.
Rich or poor, young or old, we are all given 1,440 minutes a day to use as we choose. Whether we take advantage of the gift of time or squander it, we will reap the consequences. What can be fairer than that? This should dispense with the argument that the world is unfair.
The charge that our loneliness is caused by others refusing to reach out to us is equally false. If we are demanding, critical, needy, ungrateful, boastful, nosy, hurtful, spiteful, stingy, and selfish, is it any wonder that we have no friends? As Joseph Fort Newton (1880 ~ 1950) said, “People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
Blaming poverty, lack of education, age, illness, and other whims of fate for one’s lack of friends is another false charge. Regardless of one’s disadvantages and handicaps, there are always others that are worse off, yet successful. So, it is not our circumstances, but our attitude that decides our fate. And it is always within our power to change our attitude.
From the psychological view, we can say that loneliness is a yearning to be reunited with our lost self. As a young child, we were happy to be the person we were. But then our caregivers and others intervened, pointing out our faults, flaws, misdeeds, defects, blunders, and transgressions. We came to dislike who we were. So, we were torn apart from our original happy self, a person that we may continue to miss and long for. Loneliness, then, is being unhappy with oneself, for as Wayne Dyer says, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”
As soon as we learn to like ourselves, we will no longer be uncomfortable when alone, and our loneliness will fade away. What’s more, when we are at ease with ourselves, others will find us comfortable to be with, so attracting new friends will come naturally. But how do we learn to like ourselves? It’s easy: be good; do good, and you will feel good. And feeling good is just another way to describe happiness or self-contentment.
Volunteering is a wonderful way to end loneliness. Think of all the lonely people in hospitals and old age homes that would be delighted to spend time with you. Besides offering the opportunity to make new friends and learn new things, volunteering makes you feel good about yourself. So, keep in mind the words of Tennessee Williams (1914 ~ 1983), “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.” Besides volunteering, think about support groups, clubs, meetings, sports, and other activities. It’s hard to be lonely when you’re busy!
Finally, develop a positive attitude. Do this by reading inspirational material. A wonderful piece to start with is “Desiderata,” which was written in 1927 by Attorney, Max Ehrmann (1872 ~ 1945). If you follow its instructions, you will not only end loneliness, but also find your path and values in life. Here is “Desiderata” (Latin for “those things to be desired”):
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
“Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
“Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
“Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
For more articles on loneliness, see: