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The Lost Art of Alone Time

Photo by Hayden Hudson

As open-office floor plans abound and everything is Instagrammed, time to oneself has become a precious commodity. In his new book, Solitude, Michael Harris (author of The End of Absence) advises us on finding and spending time alone, turning to history, neuroscience, and his own life.

Why aren’t people better at being alone?

We haven’t been given the opportunity to exercise our solitude. In raising our children, we put a premium on collaboration and concentrated thinking and ignore things like daydreaming and reverie. Concentrated thinking and daydreaming need to be exercised in tandem. You need collaborative thinking in school, but you also need time that allows for free association.

How should we think differently about the role of solitude in our lives?

Our bodies are built to hoard sugars and fats, but in an age of plentitude, we’ve had to design healthy diets to counteract the excessive amount of sugar and fat available to us. Similarly, we now have opportunities for social interaction that far outpace what we were made to handle. So we have to design solitude back into our days.

How do you do that?

Partly through my work as a writer, but also by saying no to dinners or parties when I know that I need that time alone. What’s most insidious is how social media encroaches on my solitude, since there isn’t necessarily a physical human in the room.

What can time alone mean for our relationships?

Before social media, we had deep connection and deep disconnection. Now, we live in a constant middle ground, and I think that’s a less rewarding experience. When we step away from those we love and allow them to live in states of removal from us, it’s an act of faith. That faith in our relationships is always going to strengthen them.

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