Understand the Difference between Being Lonely and Being Alone

08.05.2019 |

Episode #9 of the course Coping with loneliness in the modern world by Sonia Chauhan


Often, you tend to feel sorry for people sitting by themselves, eating alone in their car, or who show up unaccompanied at the movies. It’s common for us to speak of them as “lonely” and “sad,” and sometimes they are referred to as a “weirdo” or a “loser.”

But take a moment and consider this: It’s a fundamental truth that we are solitary souls housed in individual bodies.

Today, I want to eliminate the confusion between loneliness (a negative state of mind) and aloneness (a neutral state of mind).


Loneliness versus Aloneness

Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to isolation. It is a negative reaction that we experience when we feel disconnected or shut down from our existing relationships and immediate social circle [1, 2]. We suffer loneliness when we lose trust in the relationships where we could otherwise be emotionally reliant upon or reassured by.

Aloneness (or solitude), however, is a feeling of being content with your own company. A person who is in touch with their inner state of mind and accepts the fact that we are meant to be residing inside singular minds is no longer lonely. It’s a feeling of completeness—that I, just being me, am enough.

Studies consistently show that some married people or those who live with family suffer loneliness too, while many of us who live alone are content [3].


Solitude Is Good

Research substantiates that spending time with oneself without a book or phone can lead to rejuvenation and creativity [4]. Meditation is probably the most popular technique demonstrating how being one with ourselves in a solitary environment benefits us.

Loneliness and aloneness are the two extremes of the pendulum. When you concentrate on your external surroundings, you might manifest the negative end of the pendulum: loneliness. But when you begin connecting with your body and mind and enjoy the human experience without any outside props, you swing to the positive end. The big question is: How do you do that?


Your Challenge: Embrace Boredom

Many of us are really scared of boredom. We crank up our social modes, and that leads us into a loop of constant escapism. This strategy backfires in the long term, the reason being that nothing can make us permanently escape the banality of life.

A much more sound strategy is to stop avoiding boredom and simply embrace the intermittent pauses where it exists. Here are a few methods to embrace boredom:

Build pockets of stillness in your day. Take out a few minutes each day just to be in your own company. Lounge on the couch and stare at the wall. If sitting idle seems too much at first, take deep breaths and count them. At first, just do ten. Remember, no music, no phone, no distractions.

Do the boring things first. Which chore do you hate the most? Start with that. Mundane tasks are the best way to introduce yourself to boredom. Build a habit to tackle mundane tasks with mindful attention.

Remind yourself that it’s not your fault. Boredom and aloneness are default features fitted upon our mental screens. Yet, we blame ourselves if we feel dull or lonely. Remind yourself often that there’s nothing wrong with feeling bored or lonely, because this is the way of life.

While I don’t expect you to become Buddha, it is necessary for me to urge you to accept boredom as an inevitable trait of the human experience. When you get comfortable with the concept of loneliness and boredom, you will begin to transcend it.

Always remind yourself that while we are indeed alone inside our bodies and minds, we have been equipped with the unique power to connect with others and build relationships with them. Keep your relationships positive and meaningful. Give up self-centered habits and be empathetic to those you meet, and you won’t feel lonely even when you are alone.


Recommended video

“Why We’re Fated to be Lonely” by Alain De Botton



[1] “Loneliness: The Experience of Emotional and Social Isolation” by Robert S. Weiss

[2] Definition of Loneliness by Encyclopaedia Britannica

[3] “Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death” by Carla M. Perissinotto, Irena S. Cenzer, Kenneth E. Covinsky

[4] Six Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone


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