Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau spent two years in a petite cabin, no larger than forty feet square feet for two years just off of the shores of Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts. Writer Elizabeth Gilbert journeyed to Italy, India and Indonesia and Albert Einstein revealed the power of regular long walks alone on the beach.
Each of the talents mentioned above and many more have revealed and demonstrated through their impressive lives that solitude, having time alone, is a power, and I would argue a necessary ingredient, to a happy life.
Now the amount of solitude each of us needs will be different. For me to say, you need an entire two years much like Thoreau would seem tortuous to some (keep in mind he did venture out each week for dinner with his mother on Sundays), while to others thirty minutes a day will do.
Regardless, in some capacity, solitude is a vital ingredient to make sense of our “deeper nature” as Frédéric Lenoir points out repeatedly in Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide. Understanding our deeper nature is the key to unlocking the door to true happiness. “Happiness consists in living in accordance with our deeper nature . . . People can never be happy if they go against their deeper natures.”
And the key to discovering what indeed our deeper nature is, is solitude.
But what if you are someone who enjoys the company of others, the energy, the vibrancy, the electricity? Then little solitude will be most likely what you seek, but it is in the moments of solitude that you have time to discern this what I need to be happy, or am I conforming to others’ expectations and am then happy when they are happy with my behavior? Solitude gives us each the time to reflect without judgment, without impediment. It also allows us time to determine why things may feel off-track in different moments of our lives, and then allow us the opportunity to see with clarity how to return or change directions to become in sync.
With that said, solitude is something we must invest in regularly, build into our schedules and grant ourselves when we realize something feels off, overwhelming or that we aren’t able to think clearly.
Sometimes if we don’t do it consciously, our lives will take matters into their own hands. Just this weekend a cold grabbed ahold of me and kept me inside when I was eager to jaunt up to the mountain to enjoy what I hope is not the last fresh snow of the season. But what the time provided for me was invaluable. I was given time to reassess, reflect and consider what is working and what is not. And in fact, a few new changes will be coming to TSLL blog and podcast, so be sure to stay tuned.
What I have realized over the course of only the past six years of the creating TSLL brand is that sometimes things work well for a certain duration and then things need to shift again to another gear to keep the momentum going to reach the desired result. The same is true with our lives. Not everything needs to be changed. Some things will remain constant, but you will realize that the training wheels are no longer needed as they are just slowing you down or depleting you of energy that you don’t need to relinquish. It has been my experience that I have come to realize these tough truths when I am in my own company.
Upon having the time to be with our thoughts we come to discover our deeper nature, our true selves, and as Lenoir states, “To be happy means, firstly, to satisfy the needs and aspirations of our being: a person inclined to silence will seek solitude, someone who likes to talk will seek the company of others. Just as birds live in the air and fish live in water, everyone needs to move in the atmosphere that suits them.”
And when we can dial in to what activities, pursuits will give us both purpose and pleasure, as he reiterates through the book, the balance is key to true fulfillment, we will then realize that by “developing our sensibility, strengthening our character, honing our gifts and our tastes —these count more than the external objects that may give us pleasure.”
So to circle back, it all begins with solitude. No matter how much or how little, take time to yourself to get to know yourself, understand your language, so you can speak as fluently as you dare in your everyday life.
Don’t succumb to the societal fear-mongering that alone time is equivalent to being lonely. After all, Paul Tillich has a beautiful retort to such a fallacy, “Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Anyone who has experienced the rewards after taking time to themselves will dismiss the ignorant statement of being lonely as someone who has yet to discover its power. Because the power will prove to be a reason to invest in solitude all the more.
The power of solitude is that it opens the door to what will make us happy. We then have to have the courage to pursuit that path. But you see, as William Arthur Ward reminds, “Happiness is an inside job.” We hold the keys to realizing what will give us purpose, what will give us pleasure along the way just enough but not too much to distract us from our pursuits.
We must become comfortable with our own company so we can find the happiness we seek. Some, maybe many, will not understand our path or trajectory initially and maybe not ever, but so long as we are content, at peace and in alignment with our deeper nature, it won’t matter.
Now, I encourage you to look at your schedule. When can you carve out some time for solitude?
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Talk in French podcast
~visit Frédéric’s Talk in French blog here.