Alone is not the same as lonely

by Apr 13, 2016Solitude

When I was in my twenties (waaaay before the onset of social media) every so often I would have an entire weekend with no plans. No dates, no nights out in the pub, no shopping trips. Come Friday afternoon if friends or work colleagues asked I would happily say that I wasn’t doing anything. More often than not an invitation of one sort or another would ensue.

Well meaning, but they missed the point.

They assumed that having nothing in my diary was a bad thing, that it would make me feel sad and lonely and that it was two days to be endured rather than enjoyed.

When I declined their well meaning invitations I could see they were a bit confused. Why wouldn’t I prefer to be joining them on a social night out rather than only having myself and the TV for company?

Simply, because I enjoy time alone.

The idea of having a whole two days to myself, stretching out in front of me with infinite possibilities, was wonderful. No-one to consult with as to what to do when, no compromises to be made, no noise if I didn’t make it.

Alone is so often mistaken for lonely yet these two words are very different.

Alone is defined as being without anyone or anything else.

Lonely is defined as being unhappy as a result of being without companions.

The key word that separates them is unhappy.

It is possible to choose to be alone and be happy in one’s aloneness whereas it is unlikely anyone would willingly choose to feel lonely.

Today, in our digitally connected world, we are very rarely truly alone unless we consciously choose to be so. Being alone has become a spectre that can be dispersed immediately by whipping out a mobile device and checking social media. Tweet or comment on a status update and we have instant company again.


Our reliance on technology is resulting in being alone for more than a few seconds inducing panic and anxiety.

Must. Be. Connected. At. All. Times.

Being happy alone comes more easily to some than others but spending time alone is an essential part of self-development. We need to have time for self-reflection, to work out how we feel about experiences, to work out who we really are.

Sherry Turkle is Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and delivered a thought provoking TED talk in 2012 about the effect our reliance on technology is having on our psychological well being. It’s just twenty minutes long…I made time to watch it…then I thought it was so important that I watched it again. Here’s what she has to say…


I worry that our young people who have been born into this amazing digital age are losing the ability to be alone.

They don’t know that in order to become who they really are they need to spend time in their own company and get to know themselves.

They don’t know that solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to others and form real attachments and design a rich and satisfying life.

They don’t know that being alone isn’t a problem that needs to be solved.

To quote Sherry Turkle,

“If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”

What do you do when you find yourself alone? Do you enjoy it? Or do you instinctively reach for your phone?

Next time you find yourself alone, just be.

You’re not really alone. You’ve got yourself for company. Have a chat.

You might find out something really interesting.


(Previously published on Jan 26, 2015.)