It’s a common assumption that if someone is alone they must be lonely. Not necessarily. Loneliness and aloneness are quite distinct: one is unpleasant and avoided whenever possible, the other desirable and freely chosen. Loneliness means feeling distressed and/or sad because it seems no one is really there for you. You can feel lonely whether you’re on your own or in a crowd.

Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago found loneliness to be associated with a number of maladies, including cardiovascular problems, increased blood pressure, higher rates of morbidity and mortality, even impaired cellular immunity. It co-occurred with a number of psychological problems as well: increased depression and anxiety, and decreased cognitive performance, optimism and self-esteem.

Aloneness, or solitude, on the other hand, is described by the Finnish philosopher Markku Koivusalo as "a withdrawal into one’s chosen peace". Reed Larson at the University of Illinois found adolescents who spent moderate amounts of time alone were better adjusted. In another study, adults who were comfortable being alone reported greater life satisfaction and lower levels of depression, and experienced less ill health.

Many psychologists extol the benefits of time alone. Abraham Maslow, who created a hierarchy of human needs, believed desire for solitude is a defining characteristics of self-actualised individuals. Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi feels the ability to enjoy solitude is important for stress management, happiness, and flow.

The Daily Telegraph

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