The Psychology of Solitude: Find Meaning, Mental Health in the Beauty of Silence

Imagination Institute Director, University of Pennsylvania
Echoing the English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Scott Barry Kaufman explains that solitude is considered one of the greatest markers of psychological health because it means you are comfortable with you are when you are alone. The silence and easy concentration that accompanies solitude is a gateway to living a deeper, more meaningful life, says Kaufman. And contrary to popular misconception, enjoying being alone does not make one a misanthrope. On the contrary, being alone can help you find and solidify new ideas, which makes working in groups more rewarding: with new ideas you can contribute more to team efforts, and group discussion will yield more fruit when there is a greater diversity of ideas. Solitude provides an essential balance to time with others, says Kaufman, and the interplay of solitude and social time moves in cyclical patterns.
  • Transcript


Scott Barry Kaufman:  A lot of people fear solitude yet the great psychiatrist Winnicott said that the capacity for solitude is one of the greatest markers of psychological health. So if you can develop your capacity for solitude that means that you are okay being alone with yourself.

As Cal Newport who wrote the book Deep Work notes some of the most meaningful things we do in our life add unique value to the world that are not replicable as he puts it. Are operated under the conditions that are complete distraction free where we try to eliminate as much as possible that ringing, you know, from our phone that we have a new text or we have a new email or looking on Facebook and checking the likes. Disconnecting from the outside world as much as possible and get in a situation where we’re in complete solitude that we can get completely immersed and really follow through to completion something in a very deep way. He argues that is very conducive to a good life as well as a meaningful life.

It doesn’t mean because you’ve developed your capacity for solitude that you’re a misanthrope is what I want to say. It doesn’t mean that. That’s a false dichotomy. You can develop your capacity fully for optimal deep work but you can also develop your capacity to collaborate with others so that once you come up with ideas or generate things that are deep you can then share and get feedback and then go back. It’s a constant process, constant cyclical process where you go back and forth between getting feedback from the world and seeing what your sense of audience. It’s very important to know what your sense of audience, get a sense of your audience when you’re producing a creative work. But it’s also very important to have moments where you go into solitude and you embrace the beauty of silence.