UNITED STATES—A child views it as punishment. Teens see it as exploitable. Parents beg for it and some elderly people fear it will never stop.

Solitude is currently defined by Merriam-Webster as both being alone AND being in a lonely place: it is no wonder newer generations have evolved to understand solitude as negative and something to avoid!

The concept of spending time alone was once a much revered aspect of human existence! A time for humans to reflect on the thoughts that will define how we feel about any number of things.

Moses did it. So did Gandhi and Buddha. Bill Gates called it his “think week.” Solitude provides critical alone time that fuels the thinking necessary to make informed and well thought out decisions.

Such is the case with creative genius Arthur Brisbane, who is quoted as saying: Get away from the crowd when you can. Keep yourself to yourself, if only for a few hours daily.” With his prolific writing capabilities and numerous accomplishments during the turbulent times of slavery, prohibition, and gender inequality: he was a man careful with the responsibility that came with words.

At first glance it appears that our world no longer values this once important solitary activity.

We use devices to interact with other humans. Students focus on television or music while they do homework. Very rarely does one actually feel alone without some sort of underlying depression as the culprit.

Huffington Post reported a study in 2013 that shows, “taking alone time can result in lower rates of adolescent depression.”

The past days of free thought and creativity are not even comprehensible by the mini-gadget generation.

It seems almost imperative, that youth would need this time to develop the sense of self required for individuality and therefore a strong personality. Yet children are rarely alone. If not connected by some face to face technology, they can silently finger their way through conversations.

Solitude was once considered by creative types to be positive and inspiring.

In today’s world though, it appears that the connotation attached to solitude is typically negative. Subjectively defined by whether the person likes to be alone or not, or better yet: if the person can stand to be alone with their own thoughts and memories.

Lord Byron, a scandalous poet who died prematurely in the 1820s, relates solitude to dying. He says, “If from society we learn to live, it is solitude should teach us how to die.”

Albert Einstein has given us some quotes that show why youth may not be able to appreciate solitude just yet: “solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature” and “the monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind” show us that the appreciation for solitude may come with age. In the end the genius evolved to appreciate being alone, as can be seen in the quote: “a table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” 

The same monotonous solitude that was compared to dying, will be appreciated by those wishing to foster true creativity with the least amount of distraction. It does not need to be torturous, but instead can be considered an invaluable gift to self – based solely on how the individual mind views it.

Calderon Girl in Solitude courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Juliet by Calderon courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Psychology Today Editor-at-large Hara Estroff Marano smartly explains that it is a choice we may forget is ours to make: “Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others.”

Edward Gibbon an 18th century historian and member of Parliament, believed solitude was desirable: “Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius.”

Think of the biblical stories of men like Moses going to reflect… Alone.

One Modern Buddhist theorizes that even though we are evolving to a race of people who distract ourselves from solitude, we are also opting for singular and solitude lives by living in apartments alone. Still others, considered to be minimalist in lifestyle, are trying to revive the undervalued solitude and promote it as something free that one can do for oneself.

In the end I do not think the concept of solitude has evolved, but rather wavered in popularity over the last century. Of course it is up to us to teach the new generation how to regard time spent alone: to dread it or utilize it for creativity?

Time to force an upward swing in positivity, so solitude can once again be appreciated by our youth!

Let’s follow quotation anthologist Terri Guillemet’s way of thinking: “Solitude coaxes magical things from our souls.”